Dyspnea is a medical term that means shortness of breath or air hunger. It can range from being mild to being more serious and long-lasting.
Dyspnea is commonly experienced by overweight people and is prone to get triggered by allergens like pollen, powder, dust, etc.
Dyspnea can either show up suddenly (acute) or develop through time (chronic). It can interfere with everyday routines if left untreated. In worst cases, untreated dyspnea can lead to brain death and coma.
Causes of Dyspnea
Dyspnea is a rather common condition that even healthy individuals experience after an intense workout, being at higher altitudes for a long time, being exposed to extreme temperatures, fear of flight and pregnancy. Dyspnea can also be due to obesity, and reducing body weight can alleviate the symptoms. However, it can also have underlying causes that need medical intervention. Some of the common causes are:
- Asthma: Shortness of breath even after a casual run could mean asthma.
- Lung disease: If you find yourself gasping for air a little more than usual, it could mean you have pneumonia, interstitial lung disease or any other condition
- Heart failure: If there is no proper blood flow to the heart, and if the heart is not able to function properly, you can experience dyspnea.
Types of Dyspnea
Dyspnea is of two types:
- Acute dyspnea: Acute dyspnea occurs suddenly and can be due to anxiety, asthma, anaemia, low blood pressure, pregnancy, heart failure, pulmonary embolism and hiatal hernia.
- Chronic dyspnea: Chronic dyspnea develops over a period of time and may be caused due to obesity, asthma, heart problems and pulmonary fibrosis.
Signs or Symptoms
Symptoms of dyspnea can vary from person to person. Some common signs or symptoms you have to look out for are:
- Gasping for air
- Rapid breaths
- Shallow breaths
- Heart palpitations
- Feeling of suffocation
- Pounding in the chest
Sometimes, these common symptoms can be paired with vomiting, phlegm, diarrhoea, chest pain, and neck and shoulder pain, which can mean something more serious. If your symptoms get too serious and last for long, it is advised to seek medical attention at the earliest to prevent the worst from happening.
Since dyspnea can be caused due to several underlying reasons, it is relatively difficult to diagnose and prescribe treatment. However, if you have been experiencing shortness of breath more often recently at regular intervals, getting a pulmonary function test or electrocardiogram and chest radiography can help confirm dyspnea.
Dyspnea is often a manifestation of an underlying serious illness. Oftentimes, treating the underlying cause can keep dyspnea at bay. For example, if asthma or any other lung disease is causing dyspnea, then a bronchodilation can reduce dyspnea. If obesity is the one causing you to gasp for breath, then reducing your body weight can resolve it. In more serious conditions like heart failure, medical procedures or surgeries like coronary bypass surgery, etc., can help with resolving dyspnea.
Dyspnea is just a manifestation of more serious conditions and can progress if you have:
- Lung disease
- Heart failure
- Cancer of the lungs
- Emphysema / chronic bronchitis
These are some of the risk factors that can cause a dyspnea episode. There are other minor triggers such as:
- Strenuous workout
- Climbing uphill
- Extreme temperature
- High altitude
- Pressure situation
- Panic attacks
If you experience dyspnea because of obesity, indulging in regular physical activity and maintaining a healthy body weight can prevent dyspnea. But, if you experience dyspnea due to an underlying condition, then treating that condition and keeping the associated symptoms in check can help prevent dyspnea.
Dyspnea is known to occur repeatedly. So, it is advised to detect the triggers and stay away from them as much as possible. Seeking medical intervention and treating the underlying disease that causes dyspnea is the best way to prevent your next episode.
Dyspnea is a less severe manifestation of an underlying disease. Though it occurs commonly in even healthy individuals, dyspnea can cause more serious illnesses. Since dyspnea creates a hypoxic state and deprives organs of oxygen, there are chances of developing brain damage in the long run. Brain damage and nervous diseases are some of the serious complications of dyspnea. If you are someone already with anxiety or hypertension issues, you will get panic attacks more often.
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