Feeling short of breath? You’re not alone. Shortness of breath or breathlessness is common for older people who have chronic conditions, including those that affect the heart and lungs.
These can include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and heart failure. Chronic breathlessness is the name given to the condition that makes everyday life difficult and persists despite treatment from your healthcare team.
Breathlessness can occur even when you are not exerting yourself because the heart and lungs have become less efficient at delivering oxygen-rich blood to – and removing carbon dioxide from – your body’s cells.
This may be due to:
- Inflamed and narrowed airways
- Stiff lung tissue
- Phlegm plugging the lungs
- Fluid in the heart or lungs
- Problems with the heart’s rhythm, valves or muscle tissue.
Chronic breathlessness often develops gradually, so at first, you may just think you are unfit. Your breathlessness may be associated with wheezing, coughing and bringing up phlegm. The symptoms can feel different for everyone, but you may experience sensations such as chest tightness, finding it hard work to breathe or even feeling like you are suffocating. Breathlessness can be very distressing and feeling scared or anxious can make things worse by causing you to tighten your breathing muscles and breathe faster.
Working with a physiotherapist to develop strategies to help control this can ease your feelings of distress and reduce your breathlessness.
How physio can help:
Physiotherapy can help you manage your shortness of breath by addressing three domains that make up the cycle of breathlessness – breathing, thinking and functioning.
- The first line of treatment for chronic breathlessness is non-pharmacological measures, many of which physiotherapists can deliver.
- Physiotherapists can deliver interventions including breathing training, skeletal muscle exercise and cool facial airflow.
- Physiotherapists can assess breathlessness using a variety of tools, which can be as simple as using a scale from 1-10 for you to rate your breathlessness.
- Physiotherapists can help you understand more about chronic breathlessness to reduce fear, activity avoidance and deconditioning.
- Physiotherapists can deliver interventions that improve function (e.g. gait aids).
- Physiotherapists can provide exercise training that improves physical fitness, which can improve your movement and daily routine.
- Physiotherapists can support the carers of people who are breathless by identifying and responding to their needs.
So if you are having trouble catching your breath, our caring team of physiotherapists are ready to help. Breathing better can change the way you live your life and we would love to help you breathe better, move better and keep doing the important things in life.
Call us today for more information.
*** Article written by Becky Burgess, The Physio Co TeamSA