University of Hull logo

Breathlessness and presentation to the emergency department: a survey and clinical record review

Hutchinson, Ann; Pickering, Alistair; Williams, Paul; Bland, J. Martin; Johnson, Miriam J.


Alistair Pickering

Paul Williams

J. Martin Bland


Background Breathlessness is a frequently occurring symptom of cardiorespiratory conditions and is a common cause of emergency department presentation. The aim of this study was to estimate the prevalence of acute-on-chronic breathlessness as a cause for presentation to the major emergencies area of the emergency department. Methods A prospective patient self-report survey and clinical record review of consecutive attendees to the major emergencies area of the emergency department in a single tertiary hospital between 12/5/14 and 29/5/14 was conducted. Eligible patients were clinically stable and had mental capacity to provide data. Results There were 2,041 presentations during the study period, of whom 1,345 (66%) were eligible. There was a 90% survey response rate (1,212/1,345); 424/1,212 (35%) self-reported breathlessness most days over the past month of whom 245 gave breathlessness as a reason for this presentation. Therefore, the prevalence of acute-on-chronic breathlessness as a reason to present to the major emergencies area was 20.2% (245/1,212, 95% CI 17.9% to 22.5%). During this period there were 4,692 major and minor presentations; breathlessness was therefore a cause of at least 5.2% (245/4,692, 95% CI 4.6 to 5.9%) of all emergency department presentations. Conclusions This study found that one in five ambulance presentations to the ED were due to acute-on-chronic breathlessness. Most patients had non-malignant underlying conditions, had experienced considerable breathlessness for an extended period, had discussed breathlessness with their GP and presented out of daytime hours. Others were often involved in their decision to present. This represents clinically significant burden for patients, their family carers and the emergency health services.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Mar 20, 2017
Journal BMC pulmonary medicine
Electronic ISSN 1471-2466
Publisher Springer Verlag
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 17
Issue 1
Article Number 53
Institution Citation Hutchinson, A., Pickering, A., Williams, P., Bland, J. M., & Johnson, M. J. (2017). Breathlessness and presentation to the emergency department: a survey and clinical record review. BMC Pulmonary Medicine, 17(1),
Keywords Epidemiology, Breathlessness
Publisher URL
Additional Information Copy of article first published in: BMC pulmonary medicine, 2017, v.17, article number 53.


Article.pdf (418 Kb)

Copyright Statement
This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

You might also like

Downloadable Citations