Breathing is a physiological process that normally does not require additional efforts from a person. Inhalation and exhalation are done automatically with the desired frequency and duration. With shortness of breath (dyspnea), a person feels chest discomfort, the frequency of respiratory movements increases, they become deeper, sometimes impetuous. In some cases, for example, after intense physical exertion, this state is quite natural, in the future breathing returns to normal. But if dyspnea worries often, appears for no apparent reason or after minimal activity, a person should visit a doctor.

Heart disease: shortness of breath on exertion and at rest

Heart disease is one of the most common causes of difficult breathing . The mechanism of development of dyspnea in this case is directly related to poor work of the myocardium or arteries. The blood, passing through the vessels of the lungs, is saturated with oxygen, and then it spreads through the heart throughout the body. If, for some reason, the organ does not cope with this task, the body tries to compensate for the lack of oxygen with more intense breathing. It is for cardiac pathologies that the so-called mixed shortness of breath is characteristic, when difficulties arise both during inhalation and exhalation. 

The most common symptom is manifested in such diseases:

  • Heart defects in children.
  • Coronary heart disease.
  • Inflammatory diseases – myocarditis, pericarditis, endocarditis.
  • Chronic heart failure.
  • Arrhythmias.

For diseases of the cardiovascular system, a gradual worsening of dyspnea is characteristic. At first, shortness of breath appears on exertion, and quite intense. After that, less activity is required for the onset of a symptom, for example, breathing may become confused after a normal walk at a fast pace. And in the last stages of illness, shortness of breath occurs at rest. With severe heart failure, the so-called cardiac asthma (paroxysmal dyspnea) develops – asthma attacks during sleep caused by fluid congestion in the lungs.

Difficulty breathing: acute respiratory infections, lung disease and more

The second most common cause of shortness of breath is diseases of the respiratory system. In this case, the heart copes with its functions, but in the lungs themselves, for one reason or another, the blood is not sufficiently saturated with oxygen. That is why a person tries to take deeper and more frequent breaths.  

Dyspnea is characteristic of various acute respiratory infections, especially if the infection affects the lower respiratory tract. Dyspnea is most pronounced with bronchitis and pneumonia of various etiologies. Normally, the symptom goes away as soon as the bronchi and lungs are cleared of mucus and their swelling subsides. 

Dyspnea that occurs against the background of diseases of the respiratory system can be of several types:

  • Inspiratory (difficulty breathing). Shortness of breath develops with inflammation of the trachea and bronchi, can talk about asthma, respiratory trauma and bronchitis.
  • Expiratory (difficult exhalation). It manifests itself in the event that the smallest bronchi – bronchioles – are affected. The symptom is typical for severe pathologies – pulmonary emphysema and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).

If the symptom is persistent, this may indicate severe damage to the respiratory system. In particular, the following:

  • Chronic inflammation, including chronic bronchitis.
  • Neoplasms in the lungs.
  • Tuberculosis.
  • Cicatricial stenosis.
  • Actinomycosis of the lungs (fungal disease).
  • Silicosis (deposition of dust particles in the lungs, an occupational disease of workers in hazardous enterprises).

As in the case of heart disease, shortness of breath during exertion appears in the initial stages. For example, breathing can be disturbed even when talking or laughing. Gradually the frequency and duration of attacks increases.

Dyspnea can be a symptom of life-threatening conditions. In particular, respiratory failure occurs when:

  • Ingestion of a foreign body in the respiratory tract.
  • Pneumothorax.
  • Croup, including true – with diphtheria.
  • Toxic pulmonary edema.
  • Pulmonary embolism.

With increasing respiratory failure, shortness of breath turns into dyspnea, the person’s nasolabial triangle turns blue , inhales and exhales are whistling and as difficult as possible, the consciousness is confused. In this case, the patient needs urgent medical attention.

Shortness of breath with metabolic disorders

Endocrine disorders can also cause breathing problems. If dyspnea is not associated with diseases of the heart and lungs, it can talk about such diseases:

  • Diabetes.

Increased blood sugar affects the work of the cardiovascular system, so shortness of breath in this case is often a consequence of complications of the underlying disease. In addition, people with type 2 diabetes tend to be overweight. And obesity is an essential factor for the development of respiratory and heart failure. The overgrown adipose tissue compresses the organs, prevents the lungs from expanding completely, and the heart from fully contracting. Extra pounds put an additional burden on the cardiovascular system, because the myocardium has to provide a large mass of blood. Against the background of these factors, shortness of breath occurs. Dyspnea with wheezing is characteristic of diabetes mellitus – they often occur due to stagnant processes in the lungs.  

  • Thyrotoxicosis (excessive synthesis of thyroid hormones).

Hyperfunction of the thyroid gland affects the work of the whole organism – the metabolism is significantly accelerated, the person is constantly in an overexcited state. Hormones affect the nervous system and affect the heart, causing tachycardia – an increased heart rate. Dyspnea with thyrotoxicosis resembles shortness of breath during exertion – the number of breaths and exhalations increases sharply, but they are not difficult, not accompanied by whistling or wheezing.

Other causes of shortness of breath

Difficulty breathing also occurs against the background of other diseases that are in one way or another associated with the respiratory system and the cardiovascular system. So, in people prone to allergies, the symptom may appear during an attack, since allergens often lead to swelling of the mucous membranes. Breathing becomes difficult, as in infectious diseases, but for some allergy sufferers it is a great threat. If the swelling does not subside in time, it can lead to suffocation. According to this principle, an attack of bronchial asthma or more severe conditions – Quincke’s edema and anaphylactic shock – develops. It is important for people prone to such severe allergic reactions to always have the necessary medication with them.

Shortness of breath can indicate different types of anemia. A group of diseases is characterized by a low content of red blood cells or a lack of hemoglobin in them, in rare cases, an irregular shape of white blood cells. Since these blood components are responsible for oxygen transport, their deficiency leads to hypoxia of varying severity. And the body is trying to compensate for it with rapid breathing.

Sometimes dyspnea is a sign of disorders of the nervous system. According to statistics, more than 70% of patients of psychiatrists and neurologists complain of this symptom. In this case, shortness of breath is not associated with any pathologies or diseases, but is a consequence of excessive suspiciousness and a high level of anxiety.

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