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The lived experience of breathlessness for people diagnosed with heart failure

a qualitative synthesis of the literature

Walthall, Helena; Floegel, Theresab

Current Opinion in Supportive and Palliative Care: March 2019 - Volume 13 - Issue 1 - p 18–23
doi: 10.1097/SPC.0000000000000405

Purpose of review The experience of breathlessness in patients with heart failure is understudied. This review was aimed at evaluating the most recent qualitative findings regarding the experience of breathlessness in persons diagnosed with heart failure.

Recent findings A literature search was conducted using Pubmed, Psycinfo, BNI, Cinahl and Google Scholar including studies on breathlessness experience in patients with heart failure, published between 2017 and 2018. Only three studies were identified, and findings were categorized into five themes: acknowledgment of breathlessness, prevailing consequences of breathlessness, breathlessness in daily life, recognising when breathlessness is a problem and communicating breathlessness. Understanding the experience of breathlessness was different before and after heart failure diagnosis. Patients experienced similar physical and emotional consequences of breathlessness but varied in strategies to manage the symptom. Patients often do not report breathlessness symptom, or are not asked to describe their symptom by the provider.

Summary Recent studies show those at risk for and those who have heart failure need appropriate education to recognize breathlessness as a critical symptom. In addition, adequate communication between patients and providers of the breathlessness symptom is needed to support management.

aOxford School of Nursing and Midwifery, Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, UK

bCollege of Nursing, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina, USA

Correspondence to Helen Walthall, Oxford School of Nursing and Midwifery, Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, Oxford Brookes University, Jack Straws Lane, Oxford OX30FL, UK. Tel: +44 1865 482603; e-mail:

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