Persisting breathlessness and activities reduced or ceased: a population study in older men

Publication Name

BMJ open respiratory research


INTRODUCTION: Breathlessness is debilitating and increases in prevalence with age, with people progressively reducing their everyday activities to 'self-manage' it. This study aimed to evaluate the impact of breathlessness on function in terms of activities that have been reduced or ceased ('compromised') in older men. METHODS: A cross-sectional postal survey of Swedish 73-year-old man in the VAScular and Chronic Obstructive Lung disease study self-reporting on demographics, breathlessness (modified Medical Research Council (mMRC) scale, Dyspnoea-12, Multidimensional Dyspnea Scale) and its duration, anxiety/depression (Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale), performance status (WHO Performance Status), everyday activities reduced/ceased and exertion. RESULTS: 148/828 (17.9%) respondents reported breathlessness (mMRC >2), of whom 51.9% had reduced/ceased activities compared with 9.6% who did not. Physical activity was the most common activity reduced/ceased (48.0%) followed by sexual activity (41.2%) and social activities (37.8%). Of 16.0% of respondents with mMRC 3-4 talking on the phone was affected compared with only 2.9% of respondents with mMRC 2. Worsening breathlessness was associated with increasingly sedentary lifestyles and more limited function, those reporting reduced/ceased activities had an associated increase in reporting anxiety and depression. In adjusted analyses, breathlessness was associated with increased likelihood of activities being ceased overall as well as physical and sexual activities being affected separately. CONCLUSION: Worsening breathlessness was associated with decreasing levels of self-reported physical activity, sexual activity and function. Overall, the study showed that people with persisting breathlessness modify their lifestyle to avoid it by reducing or ceasing a range of activities, seeking to minimise their exposure to the symptom.

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