Types and Causes of Dyspnea

Types and Causes of Dyspnea

In short, dyspnea is shortness of breath that people often describe as being hungry for air. And, although it might be normal to experience dyspnea after strenuous exercise, becoming dyspneic can also happen as a result of a medical issue like anxiety, obesity, as well as lung or heart disease.

Dyspnea Symptoms and Complications

Common symptoms of dyspnea include short, rapid, shallow, effortful, slow, and painful or uncomfortable breathing. Yet, other severe symptoms might also be present such as chest pressure, tightness, or heaviness, a feeling of suffocation, or an inability to breathe.

And, as you can guess, dyspnea, especially sudden and extreme dyspnea, requires urgent medical attention. It can result in oxygen deprivation which can lead to confusion or loss of consciousness. Plus, prolonged oxygen deprivation can result in hypoxia (low oxygen in the body’s tissues) and hypoxemia (low oxygen in the blood), which can then lead to serious health issues like brain damage and kidney failure.

Dyspnea Types and Causes

As we already mentioned before, strenuous exercise might cause dyspnea but this is completely harmless. It occurs because during exercise your body needs more oxygen and makes you breathe faster. However, it resolves after a few minutes of rest. On the other hand, if dyspnea occurs as a result of a medical problem, it should be medically addressed.

Acute Dyspnea

Dyspnea can be acute, which means that a person experiences sudden episodes of dyspnea with completely normal breathing between these episodes. Some common medical conditions that might cause acute dyspnea include:

  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Lung infections
  • Pulmonary embolus
  • Pulmonary effusion
  • Pneumothorax
  • Asthma
  • Aspiration
  • Inhalation of an object
  • Allergies
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Chest trauma

Chronic Dyspnea

As the name itself suggests, chronic dyspnea is the one that doesn’t go away and gradually worsens over time. As it progresses, it might start interfering with your daily life and make you feel short of breath even with moderate activities such as climbing stairs.

Common causes of chronic dyspnea include:

  • Heart conditions, such as heart attack, arrhythmias, and congestive heart failure
  • Lung diseases, such as pulmonary hypertension, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and lung cancer
  • Chronic conditions including anemia, kidney failure, or cancer
  • Obesity

Lung or heart disease are quite likely to contribute to developing chronic dyspnea as both these conditions affect the body’s oxygen supply. Systemic illnesses and obesity, on the other hand, increase the body’s oxygen demands, leading to shortness of breath.

Furthermore, patients with chronic dyspnea must avoid exposure to cigarette smoke and environmental fumes as they might contribute to flare-ups. They should also try to prevent respiratory infections due to the same reason.

Dyspnea Risk Factors

What’s more, anyone with a major health problem, from babies to elderly adults, can develop dyspnea, even as a result of a mild respiratory infection. Also, pregnant women can become dyspneic with mild exertion or even at rest, as the growing uterus and hormonal changes contribute to pregnancy dyspnea.

Final Thoughts

Dyspnea is uncomfortable, sometimes even painful. It can also cause you to feel frightened and overwhelmed. Hence, if you experience recurrent, sudden, or severe episodes of dyspnea, ensure you get medical attention. You might even need urgent medical intervention. That said, make sure you seek help right away to get checked and get the treatment you need.