Dyspnea - end-of-life
When you feel like you are not getting enough air or you're having trouble breathing, it is called shortness of breath. The medical term for this is dyspnea. Shortness of breath may just be a problem when walking up stairs. Or it may be so severe that you have trouble talking or eating.
Shortness of breath has many possible causes, including:
At the end of life, it is common to feel short of breath. You may or may not experience it. Talk to your nurse or doctor so you are prepared.
With shortness of breath you might feel:
You might notice your skin has a bluish tinge on your fingers, toes, nose, ears, or face.
If you feel shortness of breath, even if it is mild, tell someone on your hospice care team. Finding the cause will help the team decide the treatment. The nurse may check how much oxygen is in your blood by connecting your fingertip to a machine called a pulse oximeter. A chest x-ray or an ECG (electrocardiogram) my help your hospice care team locate a possible heart or lung problem.
To help with shortness of breath, try:
Find ways to relax.
To breathe easier, understand how to use:
Any time you are unable to control shortness of breath:
Schedule a visit with your health care provider to discuss whether you would like to go to the hospital when shortness of breath becomes severe. Learn more about:
Bicanovsky L. Comfort care: symptom control in the dying. In: Walsh D, Caraceni AT, Fainsinger R, et al., eds. Palliative Medicine. 1st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2008:chap 181.
Updated by: Todd Gersten, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, Wellington, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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