Article Text

Download PDFPDF
The active identification and management of chronic refractory breathlessness is a human right
  1. David C Currow1,
  2. Amy P Abernethy1,2,
  3. Danielle N Ko3
  1. 1Discipline, Palliative and Supportive Services, Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia
  2. 2Division of Medical Oncology, Department of Medicine, Duke University Medical Centre, Durham, North Carolina, USA
  3. 3Palliative Care Program, Barwon Health, Geelong, Victoria, Australia
  1. Correspondence to David C Currow, Discipline, Palliative and Supportive Services, Flinders University, Bedford Park, South Australia 5042, Australia; david.currow{at}


Chronic refractory breathlessness is defined as breathlessness at rest or on minimal exertion that will persist chronically despite optimal treatment of the underlying cause(s). At any time, 1% of the population report a modified Medical Research Council dyspnoea score of ≥3 chronically. Despite the prevalence, severity and chronicity of this symptom and an evidence base of affordable and safe interventions, chronic refractory breathlessness remains grossly undertreated. Many patients and clinicians accept the presence of the chronic refractory breathlessness as an inevitable part of an illness, with no thought of treating the symptom despite an evidence base for its safe treatment. Consensus statements from major respiratory clinician organisations now endorse such a clinical course. Failure to enquire about, assess and properly treat chronic refractory breathlessness with opioids as outlined in specialist clinical guidelines is now an unacceptable level of care ethically and is, arguably, a breach of people's human rights. Adequate pain control through access to pain relief is now accepted as a human right and, given its burden across the world, the symptomatic treatment of chronic refractory breathlessness should be seen in exactly the same way.

  • Palliative Care

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.