What Are The Causes of Shortness of Breath

Shortness of breath also known as dyspnea is a sensation of labored or difficult breathing.

What Are The Causes Of Shortness of Breath

Shortness of breath is often caused by any disorder that upsets the delicate and normal balance between the oxygen requirement of the human body and the oxygen supplied to the human body. Shortness of breath is often caused by lung disorders such as infection, asthma and different allergies. Shortness of breath is also seen in people who suffer from respiratory muscle disorders as well as disorders of the central nervous system that might interfere with the normal breathing process of the individual. Shortness of breath is also caused when few blood cells are carrying the oxygen to the tissues. This condition is commonly known as anemia.

Shortness of breath is also observed when a person is suffering from different cardiac disorders such as coronary artery disease and also heart failure.

The shortness of breath in heart failure usually occurs because the fluid seeps into the air sacs of the lungs and this condition is commonly named pulmonary edema or pulmonary congestion. This process is extremely similar to the process of drowning. Shortness of breath caused by heart failure might occur only during physical activities. However shortness of breath due to physical activities occurs only during the early stages of heart failure. As the heart failure condition progresses the shortness of breath occurs with very less physical activity and subsequently begins to occur even when the person is at rest. The dysnea caused by heart failure usually occurs when the person lies down and the fluid starts to seep throughout the lung tissue. This symptom is also known as nocturnal dyspnea since it usually occurs at night when the person is lying down.

When the person sits up and dangles his or her legs the gravity causes the fluid to collect at the base of the lungs thus reducing the symptoms. Hence many people suffering from nocturnal dyspnea usually sleep with their pillows propped up so that they can avoid lying flat on their back. Shortness of breath in coronary artery disease is caused only during physical activity but in people suffering from severe coronary artery disease the dysnea might occur even during minimal physical activity as well as during rest.

Diagnosis:

The doctors often use the symptoms to determine the cause of shortness of breath. Nocturnal dyspnea is relieved by the person sitting up straight and dangling the legs to allow the fluid to collect at the base of the lungs by the effect of gravity. This sign is used to determine heart failure. Similarly the doctors can determine the cause of dysnea as coronary artery disease if it occurs only during physical activity and is also often accompanied by chest pain. The doctors can determine the cause of shortness of breath as lung infection in case it is accompanied with fever and chronic coughing. Similarly the doctors can conclusively determine the cause of shortness of breath as allergy disorder or asthma if the it is triggered by exposure to elements of the environment such as animal hair or smoke.

In case the cause is not obvious after analyzing the symptoms, the doctors usually perform tests and physical examination on the person suffering from shortness of breath. The doctors usually choose the tests based on the particular symptoms exhibited by the person as well as other factors which might suggest a specific disorder. The most common tests performed on the person suffering from shortness of breath include measurement of oxygen levels using a small sensor placed over a finger of the person as well as chest x-ray. In case the patient is at a high risk of cardiac disorders, electrocardiography is commonly performed to determine the cause of shortness of breath.

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Yasser Elnahas

MD, PHD, Professor Of CardioVascular Surgery
Dr. Yasser Elnahas, Is an associate Professor of Cardiovascular Surgery. Dr. Elnahas was trained as a fellow At Texas Heart Institute And Mayo Clinic Foundation.Dr. Elnahas is dedicated to educating the general public about different disease conditions and simplifying the medical knowledge in an easy to understand terminology.

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