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Side Effect: Shortness of Breath

What is Shortness of Breath?

Shortness of breath is a distressing feeling of breathlessness and may be can be caused by cancer, its treatment, lung injury, or infection. It can be frightening for both patients and their family members and caregivers.

What does Shortness of Breath look like?

Shortness of breath may be mild or severe, and may or may not be associated with low oxygen saturations. It may be accompanied by deeper or faster breathing as one attempts to take in more oxygen.

Shortness of Breath

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If you are concerned about shortness of breath, a device known as a "pulse oximeter" may be purchased and used at home for the detection of low oxygen saturation

  • This device fits comfirtably over your finger and measures your:
    • Pulse, also known as the heart rate, with the result reported as beat per minute
    • Blood oxygen saturation levels, also known as the "O2 sat," with the result reported as a percentage
  • Ask your doctor what oxygen levels warrant emergency medical care and which might be managed with medications and non-drug techniques at home

How to treat Shortness of Breath

Non-Medication strategies for shortness of breath caused by anxiety:

Medications for shortness of breath:

Shortness of breath treatments based upon underlying cause:


1 Henson LA, Maddocks M, Evans C, Davidson M, Hicks S, Higginson IJ. Palliative Care and the Management of Common Distressing Symptoms in Advanced Cancer: Pain, Breathlessness, Nausea and Vomiting, and Fatigue. J Clin Oncol. 2020 Mar 20;38(9):905-914.

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Created: March 17, 2022 Updated: March 17, 2022