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Reasons for Shortness of Breath

Reasons for Shortness of Breath

Shortness of breath causes difficulty in breathing or uncomfortable breathing. There are a number of causes of this symptom such as asthma, heart attack or pneumonia. For detailed information about the reasons for shortness of breath, read on...
Reshma Jirage
Last Updated: Apr 23, 2018
Did You Know?
Obesity is as much a reason behind respiratory problems, as it is for cardiac disorders. The excess burden obesity puts on respiratory organs is one of the biggest reasons behind the breathlessness that obese individuals experience, after even the slightest amount of exertion.
Sometimes, you may have experienced difficulty in breathing after intense physical activity. You might have experienced that you are not getting enough air and feeling suffocated. It can also cause fatigue due to lack of oxygen. This condition is referred to as shortness of breath, dyspnea, or breathlessness. Shortness of breath may, sometimes, result from mild exercise or physical exertion; while, in some people, it can be indicative of specific disorders such as respiratory or pulmonary diseases. Breathlessness can be acute or chronic.
Causes
There are several different reasons for shortness of breath. Obstruction of the air passages that lead to the mouth and nose are the chief reasons behind dyspnea. Some serious health conditions such as lung diseases or heart diseases can also lead to shortness of breath. Some emotional or psychogenic conditions such as stress and anxiety are also responsible for dyspnea.
Acute Dyspnea: In acute dyspnea, there is a sudden onset of symptoms. In most cases of acute dyspnea, cardiovascular diseases, pulmonary disorders and chest trauma are the major causes.
  • Pulmonary disorders such as obstruction of the airway by a foreign object, acute pneumonia, inflammation of the air passages due to infection, lung hemorrhages, anaphylactic shock, or severe bronchospasms related to asthma can cause shortness of breath.
  • Cardiovascular diseases such as disturbances in the heart rhythm, coronary artery disease, myocardial infarction, congestive heart failure, and cardiac arrhythmia can lead to acute dyspnea.
  • Various chest injuries and penetrative wounds can lead to bruises, pneumothorax (collapsed lungs) or fractured ribs, which can lead to difficulty in breathing.
  • Certain emotional conditions such as anxiety and panic attacks can also lead to acute shortness of breath. In such situations, one may experience hyperventilation.
Chronic Dyspnea: Chronic dyspnea is mostly a symptom of heart disease, pulmonary disorders, neuromuscular disorders, and thyroid problems.
  • Heart diseases, which result from inadequate blood supply to the cardiac muscles, can lead to chronic dyspnea. A tumor in the heart or inflammation of the pericardial membrane can also cause shortness of breath.
  • Chronic dyspnea can result from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, asthma, bronchitis, tumors, pulmonary hypertension, or vocal cord diseases.
  • Neuromuscular disorders such as muscular dystrophy, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and myasthenia gravis can lead to progressive deterioration of the chest muscles, leading to chronic dyspnea.
  • People with severe anemia can develop dyspnea after vigorous exercise or physical exertion. Dyspnea can also result from some other health conditions such as hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and hiatus hernia. Being overweight is also an important cause of shortness of breath. 
Due to this condition, your body is deprived of oxygen, which can lead to serious health problems. Therefore, you should consider breathlessness as a medical emergency and immediately seek appropriate medical treatment. Dyspnea is diagnosed on the basis of findings of physical examination, blood tests like arterial blood gases (ABG), pulse oximetry (measurement of blood oxygen saturations), pulmonary function test, chest X-ray, CT scan, and echocardiogram. In severe cases of dyspnea, hospitalization and supplemental oxygen is necessary.
DISCLAIMER: This WellnessKeen article is for informative purposes only and does not, in any way, intend to replace the advice of a medical expert.