If you ever ran too hard or got a really stuffed-up nose from a cold, you've probably experienced shortness of breath. This condition essentially feels like you're not getting enough air despite breathing normally. What symptoms accompany the shortness of breath, and exactly how you perceive it, will vary according to the situation and what's causing the feeling. This condition is known as dyspnea, and it may be indicative of a number of issues, both physical and psychological. Regardless of the severity, recurring shortness of breath should be evaluated by a medical professional in order to rule out serious conditions.
The most common causes of dyspnea are actually related to respiratory issues. Asthma comes first on the list, and may be characterized by not only a feeling that you're not getting enough oxygen, but the feeling that you can't breathe deeply. Pneumonia causes shortness of breath because you are able to inhale, but liquid in the lungs prevents your body from absorbing an appropriate amount of oxygen. Interstitial lung disease may also cause shortness of breath due to scarring from inhaling damaging substances, such as asbestos or coal dust. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is also a common cause of shortness of breath. These respiratory-related occurrences of dyspnea may be accompanied by coughing, wheezing, chills and fever, among other respiratory discomforts.
Dyspnea frequently occurs with certain heart conditions, such as congestive heart failure. With congestive heart failure, your heart doesn't move your bodily fluids properly, so they tend to pool. Blood circulation may be slowed, so that even oxygen that gets into the lungs may not reach its destination in the body quickly enough. In addition to dyspnea and coughing, you may feel frequent and possibly overwhelming fatigue, and you may notice swelling in your abdomen (ascites). Your legs may swell, and you will have difficulty exercising, even low-impact and over short periods of time. This shortness of breath will likely become more pronounced during any type of exertion, but it will be present at all times. If you experience some of the other symptoms of congestive heart failure with shortness of breath, then seek emergency medical care.
Shortness of breath may occur when there's nothing physically wrong with you. There are a number of mental issues that may manifest themselves as shortness of breath. Most prominent among these are anxiety disorders, which are often characterized by shortness of breath during an anxiety attack. You may experience the feelings of chest constriction, hyperventilating and intense feelings of fear. Anxiety attacks can come at any time, and may or may not have obvious triggers.
Depression may also cause shortness of breath. It may be accompanied by moderate to severe fatigue, melancholy, aching in the joints and a general lack of motivation. During a bout of severe depression, it may feel like every movement-including breathing-is nearly impossible to do.
Many times, dyspnea may only be accompanied by generalized symptoms that point to something wrong, either physically or mentally. These need not be related to cardiac, pulmonary or mental causes, but those three categories are the most common, and the most likely to have recognizable accompanying symptoms along with dyspnea.