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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: Breathing difficulty of any kind (or any kind of "shortness of breath") is a potentially life-threatening emergency. It can indicate numerous dangerous causes such as heart attack, pneumonia, or pulmonary embolism. There are other less...more »

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 ...more misdiagnosis »

Causes of Shallow breathing:

The following medical conditions are some of the possible causes of Shallow breathing. There are likely to be other possible causes, so ask your doctor about your symptoms.

» Review Causes of Shallow breathing: Causes | Symptom Checker » | Assessment Questionnaire »

Home Diagnostic Testing and Shallow breathing

Home medical tests possibly related to Shallow breathing:

Shallow breathing: Symptom Checker

Listed below are some combinations of symptoms associated with Shallow breathing, as listed in our database. Visit the Symptom Checker, to add and remove symptoms and research your condition.

Symptom Checker

Symptom Checker

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 deeper and rest comfortably.

If shallow ...Shallow breathing Treatments

Review further information on Shallow breathing Treatments.

Stories from Users for Shallow breathing

Real-life user stories relating to Shallow breathing:

Message Boards for Shallow breathing

Symptom specific forums: The following patient stories in our interactive forums and message boards relate to Shallow breathing or relevant symptoms:

Diagnostic tests for Shallow breathing:

Various tests are used in the diagnosis of Shallow breathing. Some of these are listed below :

  • Physical examination
    • Count rate of breathing. The normal rate at rest in adults should not exceed 14 breaths per minute. Shallow breathing is usually associated with rapid breathing
    • Blood pressure, pulse rate, temperature
    • Inspect for blueness of tongue and skin, reduced alertness and distress due to breathing problems
    • Lung examination to listen to breath sound quality, intensity and for added sounds. Crackles suggest congestive heart failure, pneumonia, chronic bronchitis, lung fibrosis or bronchiectasis. Wheezes suggest asthma, chronic bronchitis or emphysema
    • Abdominal examination for enlarged liver which may be a sign of congestive heart failure
  • more tests...»

Medications or substances causing Shallow breathing:

The following drugs, medications, substances or toxins are some of the possible causes of Shallow breathing as a symptom. Always advise your doctor of any medications or treatments you are using, including prescription, over-the-counter, supplements, herbal or alternative treatments.

Shallow breathing: Comorbid Symptoms

Some of the comorbid or associated medical symptoms for Shallow breathing may include these symptoms:

Causes of General Symptom Types

Research the causes of these more general types of symptom:

Research the causes of related medical symptoms such as:

Causes of Similar Symptoms to Shallow breathing

Research the causes of these symptoms that are similar to, or related to, the symptom Shallow breathing:

Assessment Questionnaire: Questions your doctor may ask (and why!)

During a consultation, your doctor will use various techniques to assess the symptom: Shallow breathing. These will include a physical examination and possibly diagnostic tests. (Note: A physical exam is always done, diagnostic tests may or may not be performed depending on the suspected condition) Your doctor will ask several questions when assessing your condition. It is important to openly share any pertinent information to help your doctor make an accurate diagnosis.

It is also very important to bring an up-to-date list of all of your all medical conditions, medications including dosages, and names of numbers of any specialist you see.

Create your printable checklist here.

See Shallow breathing Assessment Questionnaire (28 listings)

Shallow breathing: Deaths

Read more about causes and Shallow breathing deaths.

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 lung cancer often fail to be diagnosed more »

Shallow breathing: Research Related Doctors & Specialists

Other ways to find a doctor, or use doctor, physician and specialist online research services:

Hospitals & Clinics: Shallow breathing

Research extensive quality ratings and patient safety measures for hospitals, clinics and medical facilities in health specialties related to Shallow breathing:

Shallow breathing: Related Rare Diseases

Rare types of medical conditions and diseases in related medical categories:

Shallow breathing: Undiagnosed Conditions

Conditions that are commonly undiagnosed in related areas may include:

Definitions of Shallow breathing:

Organs affected by Shallow breathing:

The list of organs typically affected by Shallow breathing may include, but is not limited to:

Detailed list of causes of Shallow breathing

The list below shows some of the causes of Shallow breathing mentioned in various sources:

How Common are these Causes of Shallow breathing?

This information refers to the general prevalence and incidence of these diseases, not to how likely they are to be the actual cause of Shallow breathing. Of the 163 causes of Shallow breathing that we have listed, we have the following prevalence/incidence information:

  • 1 causes are "very common" diseases
  • 1 causes are "common" diseases
  • 0 causes are "uncommon" diseases
  • 0 causes are "rare" diseases
  • 0 causes are "very rare" diseases
  • 163 causes have no prevalence information.

Conditions listing medical symptoms: Shallow breathing:

The following list of conditions have 'Shallow breathing' or similar listed as a symptom in our database. This computer-generated list may be inaccurate or incomplete. Always seek prompt professional medical advice about the cause of any symptom.

Select from the following alphabetical view of conditions which include a symptom of Shallow breathing or choose View All.

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Ask or answer a question about symptoms or diseases at one of our free interactive user forums.

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Causes of Shallow breathing Based on Risk Factors

This information shows analysis of the list of causes of Shallow breathing based on whether certain risk factors apply to the patient:

  • Travel - has the patient travelled recently?
  • Diabetes - history of diabetes or family history of diabetes?

    Doctors and specialists: Who should I consult about Shallow breathing?

    Depending on the seriousness of the onset of Shallow breathing, you may want to consult one of the following medical professionals.

    Important:In extreme cases, always seek advice from emergency services :

    Classifications of Shallow breathing:

    Medical Conditions associated with Shallow breathing:

    Breathing symptoms (3381 causes), Breathing difficulties (2922 causes), Breath symptoms (3023 causes), Respiratory symptoms (5166 causes), Respiratory tract symptoms (5166 causes), Lung symptoms (3280 causes), Throat symptoms (3410 causes), Mouth symptoms (6864 causes), Head symptoms (10192 causes), Face symptoms (8109 causes)

    Symptoms related to Shallow breathing:

    Rapid breathing (411 causes), Difficulty breathing (2922 causes), Thoracic breathing, Chest breathing, Anxiety disorders (30 causes), Asthma (320 causes), Hyperventilation (92 causes), Pneumonia (241 causes), Pulmonary edema and shock, Anxiety, stress, and panic attacks

    Medical articles on signs and symptoms:

    Doctor-patient articles related to symptoms and diagnosis:

    These general medical articles may be of interest:

    Evidence Based Medicine Research for Shallow breathing

    Medical research papers related to Shallow breathing include:

    Research More Evidence-Based Medicine at

    Related medical articles from our Disease Center for Shallow Breathing:

    More Ways To Research Medical Signs and Symptoms:


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