Dysfunctional breathing disorders

Date Published: 
Wednesday, January 13, 2021

In this episode, Dr Stephen Child discusses dysfunctional breathing disorders - including assessment, investigation and management. Dysfunctional breathing is a term describing a group of breathing disorders in patients where chronic changes in breathing pattern result in dyspnoea and often non- respiratory symptoms in the absence of, or in excess of, organic respiratory disease.



  • 00:48 Starting with a definition
  • 01:54 How common are these disorders?
  • 02:56 What’s the pathophysiology behind these groups?
  • 05:44 What about anxious patients?
  • 07:10 Clinical features – how do these patients present?
  • 09:03 What are we looking for on physical examination?
  • 10:25 Is there a guide or questionnaire for diagnosis?
  • 12:06 Diagnosis of exclusion
  • 13:24 Red flags
  • 14:30 Management of this condition – breath retraining
  • 19:19 Should we refer to a trained physiotherapist?


Take-home messages

  • Consider a disordered breathing pattern when a patient presents with any breathing signs that occur at rest, not an exercise and that will wax and wane.
  • Remember that it’s a relatively evidence-free area. So it’s a diagnosis of exclusion be very wary of being dogmatic about it as the primary diagnosis. Until you’ve considered the other diagnoses. And always keep an open mind when we’re dealing in evidence-free areas.
  • Simple breathing retraining supportive care and control of the breathing may make dramatic improvements to your patients.





Stephen Child
General Physician

Dr Stephen Child is a Canadian-trained General Physician with a respiratory medicine interest who moved to his current role as General Physician at Auckland District Health Board (ADHB) in 1994. Clinically, he has an interest in asthma and general internal medicine with a strong passion for medical education.

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This presentation is intended for qualified health practitioners professional development and should not be relied upon for any other purpose. Any opinions offered are those of the presenter or other speaker and do not necessarily represent the views of Goodfellow Unit.