Breathing difficulty: Introduction
Breathing difficulty can be a symptom of a variety of mild to serious disorders, diseases or conditions. Breathing difficulty is also called dyspnea and can result from infection, inflammation, trauma, malignancy, airway obstruction and other abnormal processes.
Breathing difficulty can occur in any age group or population. Breathing difficulty can result from a relatively mild condition that is easy to resolve, such as wearing restrictive clothing around the abdomen. Breathing difficulty can also accompany a moderate condition, such as hyperventilation or an anxiety attack.
Breathing difficulty combined with rapid breathing, more that about 16 breaths per minute for an adult, is called tachypnea. Tachypnea can be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening respiratory condition. These include pneumothorax, pneumonia acute bronchitis, bronchiolitis, asthma, COPD, pulmonary embolism and pulmonary edema. Breathing difficulty can also occur just before respiratory arrest, in which breathing becomes completely ineffective or stops altogether. Breathing difficulty can also be a symptom of lung cancer.
In addition to the respiratory system, breathing difficulty can occur as a symptom of diseases, disorders and conditions of other body systems. For example, in the cardiovascular system, breathing difficulty can be a symptom of congestive heart failure or heart attack. In the nervous system breathing difficulty can be a symptom of a neuromuscular disorder, such as Guillain-Barre syndrome, narcotic overdose or post-polio syndrome. Breathing difficulty can also result from an anaphylactic reaction.
Breathing difficulty can accompany shock. Breathing difficulty can also result from the pain of breathing due to fractured ribs or pleurisy. Breathing difficulty can also be due to a variety of traumatic causes, such as chest trauma that results in a collapsed lung or hemopneumothorax. Throat trauma can result in breathing difficulty due to a ruptured larynx.
Depending on the cause, breathing difficulty can be short-term and disappear quickly, such as when breathing difficulty occurs during hyperventilation. Breathing difficulty can also occur in sudden, severe episodes, such as breathing difficulty that happens with sleep apnea or asthma. Breathing difficulty can also be chronic and ongoing over a long period of time, such as when it is due to COPD or lung cancer.
Breathing difficulty often occurs in conjunction with other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Other common symptoms include shortness of breath. Complications of breathing difficulty can include low oxygen levels and high carbon dioxide levels in the body. The underlying disorder, disease or condition can also cause complications. For more details about symptoms and complications, see symptoms of breathing difficulty.
Diagnosing breathing difficulty and its root cause begins with taking a thorough personal and family medical history, including symptoms, and completing a physical examination. This includes listening with a stethoscope to the sounds that the lungs make. Certain lung sounds point to some underlying causes of breathing difficulty. For example, wheezing may indicate asthma, and a bubbling sound may point to congestive heart failure or pneumonia.
A noninvasive test called a pulse oximetry is generally performed. This involves clipping a painless device to the fingertip, which can measure the amount of oxygen in the blood. An arterial blood gas test is a blood test that measures the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood, as well as a number of other important markers of effective breathing.
Making a diagnosis also includes performing a variety of other tests to help to diagnose potential underlying diseases, conditions or disorders. Depending on the suspected cause, tests can include additional blood tests, culture and sensitivity tests, pulmonary function test, EKG, and imaging tests, such as chest X-ray, CT scan, nuclear scans, and MRI.
A diagnosis of breathing difficulty and its cause can easily be delayed or missed because breathing difficulty may be mild or intermittent and for other reasons. For information on misdiagnosis, refer to misdiagnosis of breathing difficulty.
Treatment of breathing difficulty involves diagnosing and treating the underlying disease, disorder or condition that is causing it. Some conditions can be easily and successfully treated and cured, while others may require more intensive treatment and may not have an optimal prognosis. For more information on treatment, refer to treatment of breathing difficulty. ...more »
Breathing difficulty: Symptoms
Breathing difficulty can occur along with a decreased number of breathes, below about eight breathes per minute for an adult. This is called hypopnea and can be a symptom of a very serious condition, including impending respiratory arrest.
Breathing difficulty combined with rapid breathing, more that about 16 breaths per minute for an adult, is called tachypnea. Tachypnea can be a ...more symptoms »
Breathing difficulty: Treatments
Treatment plans for breathing difficulty are individualized depending on the underlying cause, the presence of coexisting diseases, the age and medical history of the patient, and other factors. Treatment generally involves a multifaceted plan that addresses the cause, eases breathing, decreases the risk of developing serious complications, and helps a person to rest comfortably and live an ...more treatments »
Breathing difficulty: Misdiagnosis
Diagnosing breathing difficulty and its cause may be delayed or missed because in some cases, breathing difficulty may progress gradually, such as in COPD, or it may not be severe enough for a person to seek medical care. In other cases, a person may be unaware of breathing difficulty, such as in sleep apnea.
Breathing difficulty can be a sign of a serious ...more misdiagnosis »
Symptoms of Breathing difficulty
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Breathing difficulty: Deaths
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Breathing difficulty: Complications
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Causes of Breathing difficulty
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Breathing difficulty: Undiagnosed Conditions
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Misdiagnosis and Breathing difficulty
Chronic lung diseases hard to diagnose: Some of the chronic lung diseases
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