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General Practice 2023

Dyspnea: what é, symptoms, causes, types and treatment

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Dyspnea: what é, symptoms, causes, types and treatment
Dyspnea: what é, symptoms, causes, types and treatment

Dyspnea is the feeling of shortness of breath, which usually arises when you are doing some physical activity, but which can also happen in situations of anxiety, for example. Dyspnea is usually accompanied by other symptoms such as tiredness, tightness in the chest or irregular and accelerated breathing.

Dyspnea can also be caused by heart conditions or diseases that directly affect the lungs, such as asthma, pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Learn about other symptoms of COPD.

Treatment of dyspnea should always be guided by a general practitioner, pulmonologist or cardiologist, according to the cause of shortness of breath and the types of dyspnea, which may include physical exercise, medication use, oxygen therapy and respiratory physiotherapy, for example.


Symptoms of dyspnea

The main symptom of dyspnea is difficulty breathing. However, there may be other associated symptoms such as:

  • Tiredness;
  • Irregular and accelerated breathing;
  • Cough.

In most cases, dyspnea is temporary and improves within minutes, however, if dyspnea persists for a long time, worsens, or is accompanied by other symptoms such as severe tightness in the chest, a bluish finger or lip, pain that radiates to the back, neck, or jaw, it is essential to seek emergency medical attention.

Main causes

Dyspnea can be caused by different situations, such as heart and lung diseases, and can be acute, when it comes on suddenly and lasts only a few days, or chronic, when it can happen for 1 month or longer.

1. Acute dyspnea

The main causes of acute dyspnea, which comes on suddenly and may disappear after a few days, are:

  • Anaphylaxis, a type of severe allergic reaction;
  • Stress or anxiety;
  • Gasgos;
  • Pulmonary embolism;
  • Infarction;
  • Lung infection such as pneumonia or bronchitis;
  • Rib injury;
  • Medicines such as statins and beta-blockers;
  • Ambient temperature too extreme.

In addition, COVID-19 is an infection that can also cause difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Understand how shortness of breath can arise in COVID-19.

2. Chronic dyspnea

Chronic dyspnea usually lasts for at least 1 month and can be caused by conditions such as:

  • Asthma;
  • Bronchitis;
  • Heart failure;
  • Lung problems such as COPD, tuberculosis and lung tumors;
  • Obesity;
  • Lack of fitness.

Other he alth problems that can also cause chronic dyspnea include anemia, Guillain-Barré syndrome, and myasthenia gravis, a condition that causes muscle weakness and can compromise lung function.

Types of dyspnea

Dyspnea can be classified according to the presence of heart or lung disease, and the main types are:

Exertional dyspnea

Exertional dyspnea happens when a person has difficulty breathing while doing activities that they used to do without much effort. This type of dyspnea is more common in people who have a heart or lung problem.

Dyspnea in recumbency

This type of dyspnea, also called orthopnea, occurs when a person has difficulty breathing immediately after lying down. This type of dyspnea can also be related to a heart or lung disease.

Paroxysmal dyspnea

Paroxysmal dyspnea, also known as paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea, is difficulty breathing that occurs during sleep, where the person usually wakes up at dawn with shortness of breath, and may also have coughing and wheezing, which usually improve when the person sits or stands. Learn about other symptoms of paroxysmal dyspnea.

How to confirm the diagnosis

The diagnosis of dyspnea should be made by a general practitioner, pulmonologist or cardiologist, by evaluating the person's signs and symptoms, he alth history and physical examinations.

The doctor may also order some more specific tests and exams to check whether or not the dyspnea is caused by a heart or lung disease, such as pulse oximetry, chest X-ray, pulmonary function test, stress tests and computed tomography. In some cases, you may also need a blood test to check for anemia.

How the treatment is done

Treatment of dyspnea should be guided by a doctor according to the causes of difficulty breathing and the most indicated treatments for this condition include:

1. Physical exercises

Physical exercises should be done under the supervision of a specialized professional and can be indicated to help people who have dyspnea caused by excess body weight lose weight. In addition, physical exercises also help to strengthen the lung and heart muscles, helping to fight dyspnea.

2. Respiratory physiotherapy

Respiratory physiotherapy helps to improve the supply of oxygen to the body, being indicated to improve breathing and the quality of life of the person with dyspnea caused by asthma, bronchitis and tuberculosis, for example. Understand what respiratory physiotherapy is for.

3. Oxygen Therapy

Oxygen therapy is a therapy done through a mask, or catheter, to improve the oxygenation of the lungs and body cells, improving the breathing of people with COPD, asthma and pneumonia, for example. See the different types of oxygen therapy.

4. Remedies

Some medicines, such as bronchodilators and corticosteroids, may be indicated to relax the muscles of the lungs and relieve shortness of breath in cases of dyspnea caused by asthma or COPD, for example. On the other hand, calming drugs and analgesics can be indicated to relieve dyspnea in people with stress and anxiety.

Antibiotics, antihistamines and decongestants may be indicated for the treatment of sinusitis, flu and respiratory infections, relieving dyspnea in these cases. In the case of difficulty in breathing caused by heart failure, diuretic drugs may be recommended.

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