Breathlessness is a common, distressing symptom in people with advanced disease and a marker of deterioration. Holistic services that draw on integrated palliative care have been developed for this group. This systematic review aimed to examine the outcomes, experiences and therapeutic components of these services.
Systematic review searching nine databases to June 2017 for experimental, qualitative and observational studies. Eligibility and quality were independently assessed by two authors. Data on service models, health and cost outcomes were synthesised, using meta-analyses as indicated. Data on recipient experiences were synthesised thematically and integrated at the level of interpretation and reporting.
From 3239 records identified, 37 articles were included representing 18 different services. Most services enrolled people with thoracic cancer, involved palliative care staff and comprised 4–6 contacts over 4–6 weeks. Commonly used interventions included breathing techniques, psychological support and relaxation techniques. Meta-analyses demonstrated reductions in Numeric Rating Scale distress due to breathlessness (n=324; mean difference (MD) −2.30, 95% CI −4.43 to −0.16, p=0.03) and Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) depression scores (n=408, MD −1.67, 95% CI −2.52 to −0.81, p<0.001) favouring the intervention. Statistically non-significant effects were observed for Chronic Respiratory Questionnaire (CRQ) mastery (n=259, MD 0.23, 95% CI −0.10 to 0.55, p=0.17) and HADS anxiety scores (n=552, MD −1.59, 95% CI −3.22 to 0.05, p=0.06). Patients and carers valued tailored education, self-management interventions and expert staff providing person-centred, dignified care. However, there was no observable effect on health status or quality of life, and mixed evidence around physical function.
Holistic services for chronic breathlessness can reduce distress in patients with advanced disease and may improve psychological outcomes of anxiety and depression. Therapeutic components of these services should be shared and integrated into clinical practice.