Shortness of breath, also known as dyspnoea or breathlessness, refers to the feeling of having difficulty in breathing. The severity may vary from person to person, but the feeling of suffocation can cause much anxiety and distress in many people with cancer. Shortness of breath that is untreated can also lead to a poorer quality of life as it may cause limitations in one’s movements and activities.
Causes of Shortness of breath
Shortness of breath in people with cancer can be caused by many reasons, which may be related or unrelated to cancer:
How it can be treated
Your doctor will ask you further questions (e.g. when it started, associated symptoms) and conduct a physical examination, to find out the cause of your shortness of breath.
It is important to determine whether the shortness of breath is recent or chronic as the causes and treatments can be different. New or sudden onset shortness of breath usually requires urgent attention to investigate and treat the cause, whilst more chronic shortness of breath can be managed with medicines to relieve the symptom. Your doctor may also order further investigations (e.g. x-rays) if needed. Treatment for dyspnoea depends on its cause. For instance, using antibiotics to treat infection will relieve the shortness of breath caused by pneumonia. Your healthcare team will be able to advise you in detail on the management plan that is most suited to your condition.
Other ways to ease your breathing include:
What you can do
The following are some of the do’s and don’ts to help manage your shortness of breath, alongside the treatment prescribed by your doctor.
General / Environment
Positions to ease breathing
Breathing & relaxation
When to call your cancer care team
Please seek medical attention as soon as possible if you experience any of the following that can indicate
complications of your condition:
If you have any questions regarding the above, please call the Cancer Helpline at
+65 6225 5655 or approach your doctor or nurse for further details.
The above contents have been approved by the Cancer Education Information Service, National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS), for people with cancer and their families and caregivers.
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