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7 Obscure Reasons for Breathlessness

Breathlessness could happen in your daily life but if it disrupts your routine activities like sleeping and eating, there is a problem. Here are 7 reasons of breathlessness that you might not know of.

Lung Diseases By Ariba KhaliqJan 05, 2015

Are You Often Out of Breath?

You might feel breathless on a day-to-day basis. It could be while you run to catch the bus or train, or when you walk up the stairs instead of using the elevator. Regardless of the reason for your shortness of breath, the feeling can be quite draining, making you want to take a few minutes to ‘settle down’. But some people feel breathless as a regular and recurrent feature in their life. It sounds scary but they feel it when they lie down, when they speak or even when they eat. Well, there is more to breathlessness than simply over exertion. Here are the top 7 reasons for breathlessness you might not  know of.

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Breathlessness due to Respiratory Problems

Choking on something stuck in the airways can give you shortness of breath. But, that is not a very serious problem. You can try the Heimlich manoeuvre on yourself or on the choking person (avoid performing this manoeuvre on very young children – below the age of one year) or seek professional help immediately in case breathlessness prolongs. Respiratory conditions, such as asthma, pulmonary embolism, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), and pneumonia can make you breathless repeatedly or for longer durations and will definitely be given medical attention.

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Breathlessness due to Heart Problems

Breathlessness is a common symptom of many cardiovascular diseases like angina, heart attack, heart failure, congenital heart defects, and arrhythmia. Incidentally, heart failure that is caused by the damage to the heart muscle is preceded by the other heart conditions such as heart attack, angina, etc. Experts believe that the shortness of breath in heart failure is caused by the decreased ability of the heart to fill and empty, increasing the pressure in the blood vessels around the lungs; this causes the characteristic symptom of difficulty in breathing when the person is lying down.

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Breathlessness due to a Panic Attack or Anxiety

Hyperventilation (over-breathing) causes breathlessness associated with anxiety. Your body goes into ‘fight or flight’ mode during an anxiety attack. This causes you to breathe too fast. Breathing too fast means taking in too much oxygen and letting excessive carbon dioxide out. So, your body feels as though you’re not breathing enough. This causes hyperventilation or shortness of breath. Sometimes thinking about your breathing may also cause you to take in more air than required by your body. This normally happens in cases of panic attacks where you are overly concerned about your breathing and you start taking control of breathing and over-breathe as a result, causing breathlessness.

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Breathlessness due to Allergies and Dust in the Environment

Allergy is an immune response to substances that are generally not harmful. If your immune system is oversensitive to allergens such as dust, mold, dander, or pollen, it can cause breathlessness. These allergens block the airways of your lungs and cause breathing problems. Breathlessness, accompanied by wheezing and tightness in the chest, occurs in severe allergic reactions and can be life threatening. So, seek prompt medical care if you get these symptoms.

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Breathlessness due to Obesity

Scientists found that the capacity of the respiratory muscle function decreases as you gain weight, especially in the center. This causes mild breathlessness, except if you are severely obese. Moreover, severe obesity also changes the signals from the brain regarding the pattern of breathing. A study published in the journal Thorax indicated that even a modest increase in body weight substantially worsens exercise performance such as climbing stairs. As a solution, the study suggests that maintaining a normal BMI can significantly improve your breathing. 

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Breathlessness due to Cancer

Cancer in or near the lungs causes the spreading of cancer cells and puts pressure on the airways. This narrows the airways and makes it difficult for air to pass through causing breathlessness. People with cancer, experience a more rapid onset of breathlessness and it affects their life profoundly. A palliative care study found that all patients found breathlessness frightening, disabling, and restricting. The family of the cancer patients too, experienced severe anxiety and helplessness as they witnessed the patient’s suffering and felt powerless to reduce it.

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Breathing Problems due to Surgery, Chemotherapy and Radiotherapy

Sometimes surgery of the lung or part of the lung can affect your breathing, more so, if you already had breathing problems before the surgery. Although not common, inflammation of lungs can occur with chemotherapy drugs such as bleomycin which can also cause breathing problems. Radiotherapy to the chest can also cause scarring or inflammation of the lung tissue. And it may worsen the breathing problems, especially if one is suffering from lung cancer.

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