Breathlessness is distressing for people with heart failure, and, as the condition worsens, may persist despite the best treatment. It’s already known breathlessness in other conditions, such as cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is safely improved by low-dose morphine. In this study, we tested if medium-term morphine therapy improves breathlessness in heart failure.

About the project

Funder: British Heart Foundation
Time frame: 2013 - 2017: Completed
Contact for more details: Professor Miriam Johnson (
Outputs: Oral modified release morphine for breathlessness in chronic heart failure: a randomized placebo‐controlled trial

The aim of this project was to test if medium-term morphine therapy is better than placebo for the relief of chronic breathlessness due to chronic heart failure.

Seven study sites recruited 45 people with heart failure to receive active morphine and laxative or dummy medications. Participants provided breathlessness scores at 4 weeks.

The study stopped early due to slow recruitment so firm conclusions cannot be drawn. However, unpleasantness of and distress due to breathlessness improved more in the morphine group. Serious events were the same for the morphine and dummy groups. However, more people taking morphine experienced side-effects such as nausea; early treatment of morphine side-effects is important.

The challenges of running the trial will be reported on the ISRCTN registry, available to other researchers.