Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from BMC Pulmonary Medicine and BioMed Central.

Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

An integrative review of systematic reviews related to the management of breathlessness in respiratory illnesses

Chris D Bailey1*, Richard Wagland1, Rasha Dabbour2, Ann Caress2, Jaclyn Smith3 and Alex Molassiotis2

Author Affiliations

1 Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Southampton, Highfield, Southampton, SO17 1BJ, UK

2 School of Nursing, Midwifery & Social Work, University of Manchester, Manchester M13 9PL, UK

3 Department of Translational Medicine, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK & Johns Hopkins Asthma and Allergy Center, Boston, USA

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Pulmonary Medicine 2010, 10:63  doi:10.1186/1471-2466-10-63

Published: 9 December 2010

Abstract

Background

Breathlessness is a debilitating and distressing symptom in a wide variety of diseases and still a difficult symptom to manage. An integrative review of systematic reviews of non-pharmacological and pharmacological interventions for breathlessness in non-malignant disease was undertaken to identify the current state of clinical understanding of the management of breathlessness and highlight promising interventions that merit further investigation.

Methods

Systematic reviews were identified via electronic databases between July 2007 and September 2009. Reviews were included within the study if they reported research on adult participants using either a measure of breathlessness or some other measure of respiratory symptoms.

Results

In total 219 systematic reviews were identified and 153 included within the final review, of these 59 addressed non-pharmacological interventions and 94 addressed pharmacological interventions. The reviews covered in excess of 2000 trials. The majority of systematic reviews were conducted on interventions for asthma and COPD, and mainly focussed upon a small number of pharmacological interventions such as corticosteroids and bronchodilators, including beta-agonists. In contrast, other conditions involving breathlessness have received little or no attention and studies continue to focus upon pharmacological approaches. Moreover, although there are a number of non-pharmacological studies that have shown some promise, particularly for COPD, their conclusions are limited by a lack of good quality evidence from RCTs, small sample sizes and limited replication.

Conclusions

More research should focus in the future on the management of breathlessness in respiratory diseases other than asthma and COPD. In addition, pharmacological treatments do not completely manage breathlessness and have an added burden of side effects. It is therefore important to focus more research on promising non-pharmacological interventions.