Transmucosal buprenorphine in the treatment of dyspnea: Case series and review of the literature


Full μ-opioid agonists are commonly employed in advanced disease to relieve dyspnea of various etiologies. Although there are ongoing debates and studies regarding the relative efficacy of different agents, a factor limiting more general use is a concern about side effects, in particular respiratory depression. Buprenorphine is a partial μ receptor agonist and a κ-opioid receptor antagonist, with a better safety profile than full μ receptor agonists. We conducted a literature search, which did not reveal any studies looking at the use of buprenorphine to treat dyspnea. We also report a case series of three patients with dyspnea of various etiologies treated with buprenorphine, with an apparent excellent response of dyspnea to treatment, without any significant side effects. Given those results, as well as the potential impact of κ-opioid receptor antagonism on dyspnea-associated anxiety, we conclude that there is a need for controlled studies of buprenorphine against full μ-opioid agonists for the symptomatic treatment of dyspnea in palliative care.

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