Mesothelioma and Shortness of Breath
Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer caused mainly by asbestos exposure. While it can also affect the linings of the abdomen, heart, and testicles, it is most commonly found to affect the lungs, which is a condition known as pleural mesothelioma. Mesothelioma has a very long latency period, taking sometimes as much as 50 years to develop. Shortness of breath is one of the main symptoms of mesothelioma, particularly in the early stages.
Those who develop mesothelioma can find that it is difficult for them to engage in daily activities. Shortness of breath is just one of the symptoms, and this often gets worse over time. This is why many patients will be prescribed oxygen therapy. Meanwhile, new forms of treatment that are being researched.
Shortness of Breath Treatment
Oxygen therapy, which can be provided at home, is a common treatment for mesothelioma patients. Some are also prescribed drugs that help to open up the airways. However, these drugs can have significant side effects, so it is important to always consult with a physician.
Chest physiotherapy (CPT) can also be beneficial. In CPT, a patient has to adopt certain positions to enable fluid to be drained away from the lungs. This is assisted by a physiotherapist who will tap or otherwise put pressure on certain areas of the chest. Not all physiotherapists are trained to provide CPT, however.
Those who start to experience significant shortness of breath can also become a lot less alert. It is important for caregivers of these patients to be aware of this in particular. Often, patients start to exhibit odd behavior, feel confused, and develop hand tremors. Anxiety is also very common. Unfortunately, anxiety further constricts the airways, which is why deep breathing techniques and even meditation can also be beneficial.
Mesothelioma is a very painful condition, affecting mainly the chest. This pain is particularly strong in patients who have a persistent, frequent cough, or if they also have other illnesses. Medication can be provided to help with this. In fact, mesothelioma sufferers are often prescribed preventative antibiotics to help prevent this.
Prognosis for Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma has a very poor prognosis, which is usually no more than one year. In addition, it is often very difficult to give an exact prognosis, because patients will suffer from various side effects from medication, which makes it hard to determine how much lung function has actually declined. Artificial respiration often becomes necessary once patients are hospitalized. However, not all patients want this. Thus, it is important for patients to express their wishes as soon as they are diagnosed.
Shortness of Breath Treatment as Part of End of Life Care
There is no cure for mesothelioma, which means that thinking about end of life care is important. Patients have different wishes, and those that should be discussed while they are still sound of mind include:
• Whether or they are happy to try any form of treatment, or whether they want to avoid certain ones
• Whether they want to be hospitalized when theircondition declines
• Whether they want medical professionals to perform CPR
• Whether they want to use a ventilator
Shortness of Breath Treatments
As stated, most people with pleural mesothelioma will experience shortness of breath. One of the reasons why this happens is because there is a buildup of fluids between the pleura’s main two layers. These layers are membranes that help to protect the lungs. When this happens, people have what is known as a pleural effusion.
Pleural effusions, if the patient agrees and is strong enough, are treated by connecting a small tube into the fluid buildup itself. The fluid is then drained into a bottle or drainage bag. Local anesthetics are used for this. It is not uncommon for someone with mesothelioma to have to go through multiple drainage sessions.
Sometimes, a pleurodesis is performed. This means that powder, usually talc, is placed in between the two layers of the pleura. The purpose is to make the membranes start to stick together, which should prevent future pleural effusions. Usually, this procedure is completed using a thoracoscopy.
If pleurodesis cannot be performed, it is possible to have a permanent catheter attached. In this way, fluids can be drained as and when needed, rather than requiring a tube to be inserted on a regular basis. Those who have a catheter inserted usually have to stay in the hospital for a few days to help them recover and to make sure the catheter is placed properly. During this time, the patient will also be shown how to drain the fluids.
Breathlessness is one of the most constant symptoms of mesothelioma. It leaves people tired, uncomfortable, and in pain and significantly reduces their quality of life. However, there are ways to cope with this, through relaxation and other breathing techniques. This is very important, because they also help to reduce anxiety and stress, resulting into improved breathing.
Patients will also find that there are some simple measures that they can take, such as finding a position when they can stand or sit, that makes them feel less breathless. Sitting by an open window or a fan, enabling cool air to blow on the face, is also often very beneficial.
It is likely that patients will be prescribed medication as well. Depending on the stage of the mesothelioma, this may be a morphine type painkiller. They may also be prescribed drugs to prevent them from panicking and becoming anxious. Overall, they will be mainly provided with palliative care, which means it is designed not to cure the illness, as there is no cure, but to manage the symptoms to have a reasonably good quality of life and feel as comfortable as possible.