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Changes in breathing patterns

Towards the end of life, changes can occur in a person’s breathing. On occasions, these changes can be upsetting for carers but do not appear to cause distress to the person.

Breathing difficulties can be made worse by feelings of anxiety. However, the knowledge that someone is close at hand is not only reassuring but can help prevent breathlessness being caused by anxiety.

In the last hours of life there can be a noisy rattle to breathing. This is due to a build up of mucus at the back of the throat which can no longer be coughed up. Medication may be used to reduce this and changes to the person’s position in bed may also help.

Breathing patterns may change again as the person gets weaker, with breaths becoming more shallow and irregular or more laboured.

Sometimes there are long pauses between breaths or the abdominal muscles (tummy) take over the work and the abdomen rises and falls instead of the chest.


Changes in breathing patterns

Download and print out this guide to understanding how breathing patterns can change at the end of life
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Changes in breathing patterns
Changes in breathing patterns
Category: Documents
(PDF format, 211KB)
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