Talk to the Veterans Crisis Line now
U.S. flag
An official website of the United States government

VA Health Systems Research

Go to the VA ORD website
Go to the QUERI website

HSR&D Citation Abstract

Search | Search by Center | Search by Source | Keywords in Title

Use of opioids for refractory dyspnoea in hospitalised patients with serious illness: a narrative review.

Karlic KJ, Hummel EK, Houchens N, Meddings J. Use of opioids for refractory dyspnoea in hospitalised patients with serious illness: a narrative review. Postgraduate Medical Journal. 2023 May 19; 99(1169):139-144.

Dimensions for VA is a web-based tool available to VA staff that enables detailed searches of published research and research projects.

If you have VA-Intranet access, click here for more information

VA staff not currently on the VA network can access Dimensions by registering for an account using their VA email address.
   Search Dimensions for VA for this citation
* Don't have VA-internal network access or a VA email address? Try searching the free-to-the-public version of Dimensions


Refractory dyspnoea can be a challenging symptom to manage. Palliative care specialists are not always available for consultation, and while many clinicians may undergo training in palliative care, this education is not universal. Opioids are the most studied and prescribed pharmacological intervention for refractory dyspnoea; however, many clinicians hesitate to prescribe opioids due to regulatory concerns and fear of adverse effects. Current evidence suggests that rates of severe adverse effects, including respiratory depression and hypotension, are low when opioids are administered for refractory dyspnoea. Therefore, systemic, short-acting opioids are a recommended and safe option for the palliation of refractory dyspnoea in patients with serious illness, especially in a hospital setting that facilitates close observation. In this narrative review, we discuss the pathophysiology of dyspnoea; facilitate an evidence-based discussion on the concerns, considerations and complications associated with opioid administration for refractory dyspnoea; and describe one approach to managing refractory dyspnoea.

Questions about the HSR website? Email the Web Team

Any health information on this website is strictly for informational purposes and is not intended as medical advice. It should not be used to diagnose or treat any condition.