Skip to content

    Cancer Health Center

    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    Last Days of Life (PDQ®): Supportive care - Patient Information [NCI] - Managing Symptoms

    continued...

    Fatigue

    Fatigue (feeling very tired) can have many causes at the end of life. These include physical and mental changes and side effects of treatments. Drugs that increase brain activity, alertness, attention, and energy may be helpful. (See the PDQ summary on Fatigue for more information.)

    Shortness of Breath

    Feeling short of breath is common and may get worse during the final days or weeks of life.

    Shortness of breath or not being able to catch your breath is often caused by advanced cancer. Other causes include the following:

    The use of opioids and other methods can help the patient breathe more easily.

    Very low doses of an opioid may relieve shortness of breath in patients who are not taking opioids for pain. Higher doses may be needed in patients who are taking opioids for pain or who have severe shortness of breath.

    Other methods that may help patients who feel short of breath include the following:

    • Treating anxiety caused by shortness of breath.
    • Directing a cool fan towards the patient's face.
    • Having the patient sit up.
    • Having the patient do breathing and relaxation exercises, if able.
    • Using acupuncture or acupressure.
    • Giving antibiotics if shortness of breath is caused by an infection.
    • Giving extra oxygen if shortness of breath is caused by hypoxemia.

    In rare cases, shortness of breath may not be relieved by any of these treatments. Sedation with drugs may be needed, to help the patient feel more comfortable.

    Some patients have spasms of the air passages in the lungs along with shortness of breath. Bronchodilators (drugs that open up small airways in the lungs) or steroid drugs (which relieve swelling and inflammation) may relieve these spasms.

    Cough

    Chronic coughing at the end of life may add to a patient's discomfort. Repeated coughing can cause pain and loss of sleep, increase tiredness, and make shortness of breath worse. At the end of life, the decision may be to treat the symptoms of the cough rather than finding and treating the cause. The following types of drugs may be used to make the patient as comfortable as possible:

    1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5
    Next Article:

    Today on WebMD

    man holding lung xray
    What you need to know.
    stem cells
    How they work for blood cancers.
     
    woman wearing pink ribbon
    Separate fact from fiction.
    Colorectal cancer cells
    Symptoms, screening tests, and more.
     
    Jennifer Goodman Linn self-portrait
    Blog
    what is your cancer risk
    HEALTH CHECK
     
    colorectal cancer treatment advances
    Video
    breast cancer overview slideshow
    SLIDESHOW
     
    prostate cancer overview
    SLIDESHOW
    lung cancer overview slideshow
    SLIDESHOW
     
    ovarian cancer overview slideshow
    SLIDESHOW
    Actor Michael Douglas
    Article