Does palliative home oxygen improve dyspnoea? A consecutive cohort study

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Palliative oxygen for refractory dyspnoea is frequently prescribed, even when the criteria for long-term home oxygen (based on survival, rather than the symptomatic relief of breathlessness) are not met. Little is known about how palliative home oxygen affects symptomatic breathlessness. A 4 -year consecutive cohort from a regional community palliative care service in Western Australia was used to compare baseline breathlessness before oxygen therapy with dyspnoea sub-scales on the symptom assessment scores (SAS; 0–10) 1 and 2 weeks after the introduction of oxygen. Demographic and clinical characteristics of people who responded were included in a multi-variable logistic regression model. Of the study population (n = 5862), 21.1% (n=1239) were prescribed oxygen of whom 413 had before and after data that could be included in this analysis. The mean breathlessness before home oxygen was 5.3 (SD 2.5; median 5; range 0–10). There were no significant differences overall at 1 or 2 weeks (P= 0.28) nor for any diagnostic sub-groups. One hundred and fifty people (of 413) had more than a 20% improvement in mean dyspnoea scores. In multi-factor analysis, neither the underlying diagnosis causing breathlessness nor the demographic factors predicted responders at 1 week. Oxygen prescribed on the basis of breathlessness alone across a large population predominantly with cancer does not improve breathlessness for the majority of people. Prospective randomised trials in people with cancer and non-cancer are needed to determine whether oxygen can reduce the progression of breathlessness compared to a control arm.

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