There are few things scarier than being unable to catch your breath. Dyspnea, the medical term for shortness of breath, can be caused by common asthma, but there are several other conditions that can cause dyspnea, as well. If you have dyspnea it is important to get an accurate assessment of what is causing your shortness of breath.
Some conditions other than asthma that may be the root of your breathing problems can include:
Other lung problems
Several lung problems can present with dyspnea. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a condition in which chronic lung inflammation causes obstructed airflow. Infections like pneumonia, croup or tuberculosis can also be linked to dyspnea. Sarcoidosis, another cause of dyspnea, is a condition that causes granulomas (collections of inflammatory cells) in the body and the lungs.
If you have shortness of breath that is not relieved by your inhaler, you are using your rescue inhaler more than twice a week, or have symptoms of an infection (i.e., fever) it is important that you see your physician.
Heart problems can also cause issues with dyspnea by preventing the proper circulation of oxygen rich blood. Cardiomyopathy, caused by an abnormal heart muscle, makes it harder for the heart to pump blood. Heart arrhythmias or abnormal heart rhythms are caused by irregularities in the electrical system that signals the heart to contract and relax — also causing improper circulation of the blood. Heart failure or heart attack may also cause shortness of breath.
If you have chest pain or pressure, a feeling of fluttering or skipped heartbeats, pain that radiates into the arm or jaw, lightheadedness, fainting, sweating or nausea, get evaluated by your physician immediately.
There are many other problems that could potentially cause dyspnea. Anemia is a condition in which there are not enough healthy red blood cells to carry sufficient oxygen throughout the body. Myasthenia gravis causes weakening of the muscles, including the muscles that affect breathing. Some additional issues that could cause dyspnea include (but are not limited to) anxiety disorder, obesity, poor conditioning, and even a broken rib.
Asthmatics may be so used to having the symptom of shortness of breath that they fail to consider that it could be caused by another condition. As you can tell from the diseases and issues we have discussed, numerous things can contribute to dyspnea. Dyspnea is not a disease in and of itself, but a symptom that should never be ignored.
Always be sure to have any issues with dyspnea properly assessed by your physician. his is the only way to know for sure what is causing the trouble and to obtain a proper treatment protocol.
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Jennifer has a bachelor's degree in dietetics as well as graduate work in public health and nutrition. She has worked with families dealing with digestive disease, asthma and food allergies for the past 12 years. Jennifer also serves the board of directors for pediatric adolescent gastroesophageal reflux association (PAGER).