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Resource type: Article

Breathlessness

Is it common to feel breathless after Intensive Care?

Breathlessness is common after Intensive Care. It is particularly common after COVID-19.

Why do I feel breathless?

COVID-19 is a respiratory virus, which means that it affects your breathing.Spending time on a ventilator in Intensive Care may also have caused weakness in your muscles, including those that help you breathe, so they are a bit weaker and you have to work a bit harder with breathing. You can quickly lose your ability to exercise in Intensive Care (called "deconditioning"), so while running for a bus may have made you breathless before, simple activities like walking around the ward or taking a shower 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 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 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 is some really useful information on understanding and managing breathlessness on the British Lung Foundation website.