Resource type: Article

Breathlessness

Is it common to feel breathless after Intensive Care?

Breathlessness after Intensive Care is very common.

Why do I feel breathless?

The time you spent in Intensive Care may have caused weakness in your muscles, including those that help you breathe, so they are a bit weaker and have to work a bit harder to help with your breathing. Also while in Intensive Care you can quickly lose your ability to exercise so while running for a bus may have made you breathless before, after being in Intensive Care simple activities like walking around the house, taking a shower or going upstairs can now leave you feeling breathless. You may have an underlying condition like asthma that already made you feel breathless and this may be worse now that you have been in Intensive Care.

Breathlessness can be frightening and you can feel like you have no control which in itself can bring on feelings of anxiety and make the breathlessness even worse. It is a natural instinct to stop doing anything including activity that brings on the feelings of breathlessness. However, the consequence of then doing even less means your strength reduces further and the effort to do even a small activity can make you feel really breathless.

What can I do to help my breathlessness?   

There are techniques that you can use to help reduce breathlessness including getting in a good position, using controlled breathing (sometimes called square breathing) and  pacing your activities. More details about all of these can be found on the website.