Breathlessness in the primary care setting

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Abstract

Purpose of review

Breathlessness is a high-volume problem with 10% of adults experiencing the symptom daily placing a heavy burden on the health and wider economy. As it worsens, they enter the specialist and hospital-based symptom services where costs quickly escalate and people may find themselves in a place not of their choosing. For many, their care will be delivered by a disease or organ specialist and can find themselves passing between physicians without coordination for symptom support. General practitioners (GPs) will be familiar with this scenario and can often feel out of their depth. Recent advances in our thinking about breathlessness symptom management can offer opportunities and a sense of hope when the GP is faced with this situation.

Recent findings

Original research, reviews and other findings over the last 12–18 months that pertain to the value that general practice and the wider primary care system can add, include opportunities to help people recognize they have a problem that can be treated. We present systems that support decisions made by primary healthcare professionals and an increasingly strong case that a solution is required in primary care for an ageing and frail population where breathlessness will be common.

Summary

Primary care practitioners and leaders must start to realize the importance of recognizing and acting early in the life course of the person with breathlessness because its impact is enormous. They will need to work closely with public health colleagues and learn from specialists who have been doing this work usually with people near to the end of life translating the skills and knowledge further upstream to allow people to live well and remain near home and in their communities.

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