Managing breathlessness

  • Breathlessness can sometimes be a problem for people who have bronchiectasis. Some people may not really experience breathlessness at all, and some may find this is their main symptom.
  • Over time you will begin to learn what level of breathlessness is ‘normal’ for you. For some people, becoming more breathless can be a sign of a chest infection. Breathlessness can be frightening and you should seek medical help if you have a change in your level of breathlessness that concerns you.
  • Your doctor can assess the reasons for your breathlessness as it can have different causes. One of the ways in which your breathing can be assessed is by doing simple breathing tests. This way your doctor can see how well your lungs are functioning.
  • Your doctor may also use a scale called the Medical Research Council Dyspnoea Scale, to record your level of breathlessness:
  1. Not troubled by breathlessness except on strenuous exercise
  2. Short of breath when hurrying or walking up a slight hill
  3. Walks slower than contemporaries on the level because of breathlessness, or has to stop for breath when walking at own pace
  4. Stops for breath after about 100 m or after a few minutes on the level
  5. Too breathless to leave the house, or breathless when dressing or undressing


  • You may be offered pulmonary rehabilitation sessions. This is a supervised group exercise programme in your area specifically for individuals with lung conditions. It is a mixture of exercise and education sessions over a number of weeks. Pulmonary rehabilitation has been shown to be beneficial for some people with bronchiectasis. If you are interested, please discuss with your physiotherapist, consultant or GP.
  • Maintaining some level of exercise can also help with breathlessness, you can find more information in our diet, exercise and lifestyle advice section.
  • If you do get breathless, pacing your activities can be very helpful. Your physiotherapist will be able to offer you more advice tailored to your specific needs.
  • The British Lung Foundation also offer advice about breathlessness.
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