Lilia Malkin, BSc
The myriad of human physiological systems undergo change as the body grows older, and the respiratory system is no exception. For a more detailed look at the aging lungs, please see the Biology of Aging article, Age-related Changes to the Respiratory System Will Not Affect Healthy Elderly. It is worth noting, however, that the evaluation of the geriatric patient presenting to the physician's office with respiratory symptoms such as cough and shortness of breath is quite similar to that of a younger adult. The following is a two-part review of diagnostic and treatment approaches to the geriatric patient presenting to the primary care physician for the first time with symptoms of dyspnea and cough, respectively.
Part I. Dyspnea
Dyspnea may be defined as "abnormal or uncomfortable breathing in the context of what is normal for a person according to his or her level of fitness and exertional threshold for breathlessness."1 However, upon presenting to the physician, patients will usually refer to the alarming feeling of "shortness of breath," or "difficulty breathing." The complaint is fairly common, owing to the plethora of conditions that give rise to this symptom.