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Breathing difficulty – shortness of breath – labored breathing – dyspnea – what do each of these terms have in common? Each is synonymous with the other in describing an uncomfortable, abnormal awareness of your breathing. What causes breathing difficulty?
The causes of shortness of breath are as numerous as the day is long. According to the Mayo Clinic however, most cases of breathlessness are due to illnesses related to the heart and lungs.1
Because the lungs are responsible for transporting oxygen to the tissues and moving carbon dioxide out, it’s not surprising that illnesses involving the lungs result in shortness of breath. Listed below are some of the most common lung conditions that cause difficulty breathing:1
Many people don’t realize that shortness of breath is not always indicative of lung disease. In fact, heart disease is often under-diagnosed and under-treated in patients with advanced lung disease.2 The following causes of shortness of breath are associated with the heart:1
Some causes of shortness of breath are attributed to conditions completely unrelated to the heart and lungs as in the following cases:
Whatever the reason for your breathing difficulties, working with your health care provider to obtain an accurate diagnosis is paramount to medically managing the condition that’s causing the symptom.
Treatment for shortness of breath is dependent upon its underlying cause. Possible treatment options for lung problems include:
Heart conditions that make breathing difficult are often treated with:
Treatment options for conditions unrelated to the heart and lungs include anti-anxiety medications for panic and generalized anxiety disorders, blood transfusions for severe cases of anemia and weight loss for obesity.
Shortness of breath that comes on suddenly, is unrelieved by rest and affects your ability to function is often a true medical emergency. Additionally, shortness of breath that is accompanied by chest pain, fainting, sweating, and nausea or vomiting may be signs of a heart attack or pulmonary embolism. Call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms.
Author: Deborah Leader RN, BSN, PHN