Breathing is a vital and complicated process. The first step is inhaling (also called inhalation or inspiration) where your diaphragm contracts, causing a vacuum in your chest and drawing air into your lungs. The air enters through your mouth and nose, then moves through your trachea (windpipe) and into your lungs. The lungs extract oxygen and send it through your bloodstream to all of your cells.
When you have shortness of breath (dyspnea), it’s a sign that your breathing is not normal. It may result from a minor issue or could indicate an illness that requires medical attention.
If you live in the Secaucus, Elizabeth, Paramus, or Lakewood, New Jersey, area and you’re struggling with breathing problems like dyspnea, Dr. Kunal Patel and our dedicated medical team at NJ Cardiovascular Institute can help you get it under control.
To determine when you need to see a doctor about shortness of breath, let’s examine the types of dyspnea, the common causes, and what symptoms may signal a need for medical help.
Types of dyspnea
The abnormal respiration associated with shortness of breath comes in several forms, including:
- Orthopnea: a sensation of breathlessness while lying down, often connected with heart failure
- Paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea (PND): a feeling of breathlessness that forces you awake from sleep
- Sleep apnea: a sleeping problem where you have extended pauses in breathing as you sleep due to obstructions in your airway
- Hypoventilation or bradypnea: labored, shallow, and slow breathing
- Hyperventilation: rapid, shallow breathing (also known as overbreathing) caused by anxiety, panic, or chemical imbalance
Common causes of dyspnea
Shortness of breath can be either acute (happens for a short period of time) or chronic (long-lasting or recurring) and causes a “tightness” in your chest that feels like you’re working harder to breathe normally.
Feeling short of breath is a common problem that may be caused by lung problems, circulation-related illnesses, environmental factors, or medications.
Any illness that creates airway problems — like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), respiratory infections, inflamed lungs, pneumonia, pleural effusion, pulmonary edema, and pulmonary hypertension — can lead to dyspnea.
Anemia, heart failure, heart muscle problems (cardiomyopathy), abnormal heart rhythm, and heart inflammation can all lead to issues with breathing properly.
Mold spores, dust, and other particulates in the air can lead to allergy and asthma symptoms, which can compromise breathing during an attack and lead to shortness of breath.
Drugs like cholesterol-lowering statins and beta blockers used for treating high blood pressure can also have shortness of breath as a side effect.
Signs you need medical help
By itself, shortness of breath can be a cause for concern, but if it presents with other signs and symptoms, like ankle and feet swelling, trouble breathing when lying flat, chills, cough, high fever, or wheezing, then you need to get medical help.
Other serious symptoms to look out for include chest pain, bluish lips, nausea, fainting, or changes in mental awareness, which can be due to a pulmonary embolism or heart attack.
If you’re experiencing shortness of breath, make an appointment with Dr. Patel and our team at NJ Cardiovascular Institute today. You deserve to breathe easier.