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Do you get out of breath doing things you used to be able to do?

04 February 2015

A new campaign has launched to encourage people who become breathless after little or no exertion, to go and see their GP.

If a person suffers from breathlessness for more than four weeks while doing everyday things that they used to do without effort, then it is a sign to go and see a doctor.

That is a key message of an East of England Breathlessness Campaign by Public Health England. The campaign will run for the whole of February in partnership with the Department of Health and NHS England, including the East of England Respiratory and CVD Strategic Clinical Network (SCN).

The message is aimed at men and women aged 50 years and over, as well as their family and friends, who may be the first to notice and encourage a person to get their breathing seen to. Getting out of breath could be a sign of heart or lung disease but often there is good news because dealing with the issue early can make certain conditions more treatable.

Breathlessness is experienced by people with a range of diagnoses including heart disease, COPD, atrial fibrillation, lung cancer, anxiety, obesity and anaemia. It is also a symptom of asbestos related lung diseases, like mesothelioma, asbestos-related lung cancer, asbestosis, pleural thickening and pulmonary fibrosis.

Breathlessness can have a huge impact on a person’s everyday life. It could restrict a person from taking their dog for longer walks, tending the garden or make it a struggle to get up the stairs. In extreme cases, it can stop people from going out or even getting dressed. Despite the potential impact on a person’s quality of life, people do normalise their breathlessness and make compensations as part of their everyday life. That means they put off going to see a health care professional and do not get examined, tested, diagnosed and treated.

Television advertising in the Anglia broadcasting region will spearhead the Breathlessness Campaign alongside other channels of communication such as radio, press, advertising and face-to-face events. Lots of support material has been produced too for medical professionals, from a breathlessness algorithm to support primary care, to information sheets about how pharmacy teams can support the new campaign (click on links below images to see details).PHE-Ageing-Breathless_Pharmacy_accesible To download copy please click here…

EoE-RSCN-Breathlessness-Algorithm-final To download copy please click here…

If the East of England campaign is successful then it could be rolled out to a national campaign, which could help improve the quality of life for thousands of people and in some cases actually save lives.

If the excellent Breathlessness Campaign is given a national stage then we would like to see some messaging about asbestos for health professionals and the over 50s. Inappropriate breathlessness is an indicator of asbestos dust exposure. If a person is being encouraged to go to their GP with breathing difficulties and suspects that they may have been exposed to asbestos in the past, they should tell their GP and have it put on their medical record. It could help with diagnosis, improve the quality of their care and help them provide for their loved-ones.

What is inappropriate breathlessness?

Physical exercise and heavy exertion will obviously lead to short term breathlessness. Running up the stairs, walking quickly, cycling uphill or heavy lifting will make you breathless, and this is normal. Regular exercise can help people cope better in these situations.

But inappropriate breathlessness is where a person has difficulty breathing unexpectedly after doing an everyday task that would normally require no effort. It can often surprise a person that they feel uncomfortable and unable to control their breathing while doing an everyday activity, such as walking up the stairs, getting dressed, weeding the garden or taking the dog for a short walk.

Another indication of inappropriate breathing is if the person changes their behaviour and reduces their levels of activity to compensate for the breathlessness. For example, they might stop gardening, avoid long walks or the stairs, play less golf, or spend less time with their grandchildren.

If this is the case and the breathlessness persists for 4 or more weeks then the person should visit their GP or nurse. There are many underlying causes of breathlessness and not all of them are due to problems in your lungs. Changing behaviour could make the symptom worse and, in the majority of cases, there is help available to get people moving again and enjoying what they used to take for granted.

If you would like more information about breathlessness then the British Lung Foundation have an excellent resource on their website here.


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