What is Dyspnea?
Dyspnea is the medical term used to describe sensation of breathlessness, inadequate or difficult breathing. Being short of breath is something most of us have experienced after intense physical exertion, but when this sensation is disproportionate to levels of physical activity, it is generally a symptom of another medical condition.
There are a number of medical conditions that can cause dyspnea, some of which are extremely serious and so it is important that this symptom is not ignored. Any unexpected or severe shortness of breath should be treated as a medical emergency.
The sensation of dyspnea differs between individuals as does the perception of what it means to be short of breath. For some people, merely walking up a flight of stairs can leave them with an uncomfortable sensation of shortness of breath, where others may only be concerned when they feel they are struggling to breathe. In some instances mild shortness of breath is normal, for instance if one has a cold with extreme nasal congestion, or after exercise when very unfit.
On evaluation, your health care practitioner will begin with a detailed history taking followed by a physical examination. You will be asked questions regarding the severity and duration of the dyspnea, and the activities or triggers that tend to make it worse.
The answers to these questions along with a general physical examination, will give your doctor a better idea on what further tests may be necessary. Testing generally focuses on the cardiovascular and respiratory systems and may include tests such as a spirometry, chest x-ray, ECG, and complete blood count.
What Causes Dyspnea?
The list of medical conditions or states that can cause dyspnea is long, some of which are more serious than others.
Respiratory conditions that can cause dyspnea
Obstruction of the airway or chest that can cause dyspnea
Disorders of the cardiovascular system that can cause dyspnea
- Congenital heart disease
- Heart failure
- Pulmonary embolism
Other causes of dyspnea
- Guillain-Barré syndrome
- Multiple sclerosis
- Anxiety, stress and panic attacks
- High altitude
- Physical exertion
- Poor fitness levels
- High fever
Help for Dyspnea
Treatment of dyspnea depends entirely on the underlying cause. Treatments will also vary depending on whether the dyspnea is acute or chronic.
Acute dyspnea generally has a sudden onset and is usually considered a medical emergency. Most cases of acute dyspnea are related to chest trauma, lung or heart conditions. Individuals suffering from acute dyspnea are given oxygen in an emergency room setting and if the dyspnea is the result of an asthma attack, may be treated with bronchodilator agents such as epinephrine.
The treatment of chronic dyspnea also depends on the cause, and in many cases can be managed successfully with life-style changes, medications and/or herbal and homeopathic remedies, depending on the underlying condition.
Many people have begun to turn towards natural herbal and homeopathic remedies for relief and management of respiratory conditions such as asthma, bronchitis and emphysema. Natural ingredients have long played a significant part in immune system health and have shown to be most effective in supporting respiratory health, maintaining open airways and assisting with easy effortless breathing.
Herbs such as Matricaria recutita – which is recommended for its antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory and calmative properties, and Astralagus – for its anti-bacterial and immune boosting properties, are widely used either in combination with, or as alternatives to conventional respiratory medications. Homeopathic ingredients such as Arsen alb, Mag Phos and Nat sulph are equally successful in soothing and relaxing bronchioles, loosening tight chests and reducing the presence of phlegm in the chest.