Dyspnea or Shortness of Breath

Dyspnea or Shortness of Breath

What is Shortness of Breath?

Shortness of Breath is when you experience shortness of breath and difficulty breathing. The medical term is dyspnoea. It may come on suddenly (acute) or gradually over a period of time (chronic). The reason for breathlessness is that the body needs more oxygen than it is getting. So you breathe faster to try to increase the flow of oxygen-rich air into the lungs. From the lungs, oxygen gets into the bloodstream and is pumped round the body by the heart.

Causes of Shortness of Breath

Most cases of shortness of breath are due to heart or lung conditions. Your heart and lungs are involved in transporting oxygen to your tissues and removing carbon dioxide, and problems with either of these processes affect your breathing.

  • Asthma
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Cardiac tamponade
  • Heart attack
  • Low blood pressure (hypotension)
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Pneumonia
  • Pneumothorax
  • Upper airway obstruction

Heart problems

  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Heart arrhythmias
  • Heart failure
  • Pericarditis

Other problems

  • Anemia
  • Broken ribs
  • Choking: First aid
  • Epiglottitis
  • Foreign object inhaled: First aid
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Guillain-Barre syndrome
  • Myasthenia gravis

In the case of chronic shortness of breath, the condition is most often due to:

  • Asthma
  • COPD
  • Heart dysfunction
  • Interstitial lung disease
  • Obesity

A number of other health conditions also can make it hard to get enough air. These include:

Lung problems

  • Croup
  • Lung cancer
  • Pleurisy
  • Pulmonary edema
  • Pulmonary fibrosis
  • Pulmonary hypertension
  • Sarcoidosis
  • Tuberculosis

Who is affected by Shortness of Breath?

Sudden severe breathlessness is one of the most common reasons that people call an ambulance or go to accident and emergency departments.

Breathlessness affects all of us when we exercise, especially if we are overweight or not very fit. But unpleasant breathlessness that comes on suddenly or unexpectedly can be due to a serious underlying medical condition. Pneumonia can affect the very young and very old, asthma tends to affect young children, smokers are at greater risk of lung and heart disease and the elderly may develop heart failure. However, all these conditions can affect any age group and severe breathlessness always needs medical attention.

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