The frequency and outcome of acute dyspnoea in primary care: An observational study

Karin von Winckelmann, Walter Renier*, Matthew Thompson, Frank Buntinx

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: Little is known about the occurrence of acute dyspnoea in primary care and its underlying causes. Objectives: What are the occurrence and most frequent causes of acute dyspnoea in primary care, predictors of referral, hospitalization, death and possible underlying causes? Methods: Twenty-five general practitioners (GPs) in Flanders (Belgium) recorded patient contacts for four periods of two weeks during one year. They recorded patients presenting with acute dyspnoea, location of contact (surgery versus home visit), new dyspnoea versus exacerbation, tentative diagnosis, referral to a specialist and hospital, and one month later final diagnosis, its justification, referral, hospitalization and death. Results: Twenty-two GPs recorded 14,620 patient contacts. Acute dyspnoea was encountered in 317 patient-doctor contacts (2.2%; 95%CI: 1.9-2.4), without significant association between the acute dyspnoea frequency, and age and gender. Immediate referral and hospitalization were most frequent in patients 61 to 90 years old. Forty-five patients (14.2%; 95%CI: 10.4-18.0) were referred to a specialist immediately and an additional 34 (10.7%; 95%CI: 7.3-14.1) by one month follow-up. Fourteen patients (4.4%) were hospitalized immediately, and 11 (3.5%) within one month. Six patients (1.9%), all 61 to 90 years old, died within one month. Conclusion: Dyspnoea occurs in about two per cent of consultations. Serious cases are rare and are much more likely in the older age group. Twenty-five per cent of the contacts concerning acute or worsening dyspnoea were referred to a specialist or hospitalized. In daily practice, the risk of immediate referral, hospitalization and death is higher in men and older patients, especially if the contact is at the patient's home.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)240-246
JournalEuropean Journal of General Practice
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Asthma/COPD
  • general practice/family medicine
  • general
  • epidemiology
  • dyspnoea
  • prevalence
  • predictor


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