Measurement of breathlessness in advanced disease: A systematic review

C. Bausewein, M. Farquhar, S. Booth, M. Gysels, I.J. Higginson

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Background: There is a plethora of assessment tools available to measure breathlessness, the most common and disabling symptom of advanced cardio-respiratory disease. The aim of this systematic review was to identify all measures available via standard search techniques and review their usefulness for patients with advanced disease.

Methods: A systematic literature search was performed in Medline. All studies focusing on the development or evaluation of tools for measuring breathlessness in chronic respiratory disease, cardiac disease, cancer, or MND were identified. Their characteristics with regard to validity, reliability, appropriateness and responsiveness to change were described. The tools were then examined for their usefulness in measuring significant aspects of breathlessness in advanced disease.

Results: Thirty-five tools were initially identified, two were excluded. Twenty-nine were multidimensional of which 11 were breathlessness-specific and 18 disease-specific. Four tools were unidimensional, measuring the severity of breathlessness. The majority of disease-specific scales were validated for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), few were applicable in other conditions. No one tool assessed all the dimensions of this complex symptom, which affects the psychology and social functioning of the affected individual and their family—most focused on physical activity.

Conclusion: As yet there is no one scale that can accurately reflect the far-reaching effects of breathlessness on the patient with advanced disease and their family. Therefore, at present, we would recommend combining a unidimensional scale (e.g. VAS) with a disease-specific scale (where available) or a multidimensional scale in conjunction with other methods (such as qualitative techniques) to gauge psychosocial and carer distress for the assessment of breathlessness in advanced disease.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)399-410
Number of pages12
JournalRespiratory Medicine
Issue number3
Early online date17 Aug 2006
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2007


  • Breathlessness
  • Dyspnoea
  • Measurement
  • Systematic review
  • Advanced disease
  • Outcomes

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