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Shallow Breathing

Shallow Breathing: Introduction

Shallow breathing can be a symptom of a variety of mild to serious disorders, diseases or conditions. Shallow breathing is also sometimes called hypopnea and can result from infection, inflammation, trauma, malignancy, airway obstruction and other abnormal processes. Shallow breathing can also be a normal in some people or occur during a normal condition, such as during late pregnancy.

Shallow breathing can occur in any age group or population. Shallow breathing can result from a relatively mild condition that is easy to resolve, such as wearing restrictive clothing around the abdomen. Shallow breathing can accompany a moderate condition, such as hyperventilation or an anxiety attack.

Shallow breathing 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 pneumonia acute bronchitis, bronchiolitis, asthma, COPD, pulmonary embolism and pulmonary edema. Shallow breathing can also occur just before respiratory arrest, in which breathing become totally ineffective or stops altogether.

In addition to the respiratory system, shallow breathing can occur as a symptom of diseases, disorders and conditions of other body systems. For example, in the cardiovascular system, shallow breathing can be a symptom of congestive heart failure or heart attack. In the nervous system shallow breathing can be a symptom of a neuromuscular disorder, such as Guillain-Barre syndrome, narcotic overdose or post-polio syndrome.

Shallow breathing can also accompany shock and pain. In the gastrointestinal system, shallow breathing can accompany the severe pain of acute pancreatitis. In the reproductive system, shallow breathing can accompany the pain of pelvic inflammatory disease. Shallow breathing can also result from the pain of breathing due to fractured ribs or pleurisy.

Depending on the cause, shallow breathing can be short-term and disappear quickly, such as when shallow breathing occurs during hyperventilation. Shallow breathing can also occur in sudden, severe episodes, such as shallow breathing that happens with some sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea. Shallow breathing can also be chronic and ongoing over a long period of time, such as when it is due to COPD or lung cancer.

Shallow breathing 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 shallow breathing 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 shallow breathing.

Diagnosing shallow breathing 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 during breathing. Certain lung sounds point to some underlying causes of shallow breathing. For example, wheezing may indicate asthma, and a bubbling or crackling sound (rales, crackles) 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, such as acid-base balance.

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 tests, EKG, and imaging tests, such as chest X-ray, CT scan, nuclear scans, and MRI.

A diagnosis of shallow breathing and its cause can easily be delayed or missed because shallow breathing may be mild or intermittent and for other reasons. For information on misdiagnosis, refer to misdiagnosis of shallow breathing.

Treatment of shallow breathing involves diagnosing and treating the underlying disease, disorder or condition that is causing it. Supplemental oxygen is used if the shallow breathing results in low levels of oxygen in the blood. 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 shallow breathing. ...more »

Shallow Breathing: Symptoms

Shallow breathing 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.

Shallow breathing combined with rapid breathing, more that about 16 breaths per minute for an adult, is called tachypnea. ...more symptoms »

Shallow Breathing: Treatments

Treatment plans for shallow breathing 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, decreases the risk of developing serious complications, and helps a person to breathe ...more treatments »

Shallow Breathing: Misdiagnosis

Diagnosing shallow breathing and its cause may be delayed or missed because in some cases, shallow breathing may not be severe enough for a person to seek medical care. In other cases, a person may be unaware of shallow breathing, such as in sleep apnea.

Shallow breathing accompanied by a low or high number of breathes can be a sign of a serious condition and ...more misdiagnosis »

Symptoms of Shallow Breathing

Home Diagnostic Testing

Home medical testing related to Shallow Breathing:

Wrongly Diagnosed with Shallow Breathing?

Causes of Shallow Breathing

Read more about causes of Shallow Breathing.

More information about causes of Shallow Breathing:

Shallow Breathing: Undiagnosed Conditions

Commonly undiagnosed diseases in related medical categories:

Misdiagnosis and Shallow Breathing

Chronic lung diseases hard to diagnose: Some of the chronic lung diseases are difficult to diagnose. Even the well-knowns conditions such as asthma or more »

Shallow Breathing: Research Doctors & Specialists

Research related physicians and medical specialists:

Other doctor, physician and specialist research services:

Hospitals & Clinics: Shallow Breathing

Research quality ratings and patient safety measures for medical facilities in specialties related to Shallow Breathing:

Choosing the Best Hospital: More general information, not necessarily in relation to Shallow Breathing, on hospital performance and surgical care quality:

Shallow Breathing: Rare Types

Rare types of diseases and disorders in related medical categories:

User Interactive Forums

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Related Shallow Breathing Info

Videos about Shallow Breathing


More information about Shallow Breathing

  1. Shallow Breathing: Introduction
  2. Symptoms
  3. Causes
  4. Treatments
  5. Misdiagnosis
  6. Home Testing
  7. Types

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