May 23, 2017: Shortness of breath, a condition often overlooked, may be a symptom of heart failure or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), warns a new study which suggests that early intervention can help prevent patient suffering and hospitalisations.
“The fact that people do not seek medical advice for their breathlessness is often due to people associating their symptoms with the natural process of ageing,” said Nasser Ahmadi, researcher at the University of Gothenburg’s Sahlgrenska Academy in Sweden.
“But if you notice that you experience increased shortness of breath during exertion, you should seek medical attention,” said Ahmadi, a specialist in cardiology and general medicine at Capio Medical Centre in Sweden. He studied breathlessness in several studies with different study designs and study populations. One study was population based and had about 1,000 participants, while another one had about 100 patients who sought medical advice for their breathlessness in the primary healthcare setting.
It does not involve patients with acute shortness of breath, which can develop within a few days and should always be treated immediately. Instead, the focus is on chronic shortness of breath and adults who sought care after having shortness of breath for six weeks or more.
“The patients who sought care for chronic breathlessness appeared to have a significantly impaired quality of life than the general population,” said Ahmadi. “They often had major problems completing everyday tasks. They suffered from different underlying diseases like a potential heart failure or a hidden obstructive lung disease that was developing,” he said.
Chronic shortness of breath should be considered as an equally important warning signal as high blood pressure. In order to an early detection or a correct medication of potentially chronic diseases, we need more efficient models in the primary health care to identify those who are at risk. “The faster we identify these patients, the better prognoses we will have and the lighter the load on the healthcare system later on,” said Ahmadi.
“Shortness of breath is often a sign of heart or lung disease because these two organs are most closely involved in the respiratory system,” he said. According to Ahmadi most of the studies on shortness of breath that have been conducted are associated with hospitalisation, while there is significantly less research within the primary care system.
Previous research has shown that one out of three individuals over 65 years of age in Sweden may suffer from shortness of breath during exertion. The question is how to distinguish between chronic shortness of breath and poor general fitness. “Very often, the patient recognises that something is not right. People can compare their health with how it was previously, after all, one is his best health reference,” said Ahmadi.