Why Do I Feel Short of Breath?

One of the most common health related complaints these days is difficulty in breathing. The problem with that is not only the frequency with which it occurs, but also the difficulty in diagnosing the said problem. Much like other forms of ailment (for example, pain, fatigue, dizziness etc.), minor difficulty in breathing can just be a symptom of other serious underlying diseases. It is advised that you seek medical help if you experience a combination of symptoms along with breathing difficulty.

This article deals with breathing difficulties faced by millions throughout the globe every day. What starts out as simply, “I can't catch my breath” or “I can't take a deep breath” usually transforms into something much more serious. This article will provide you with the most common causes and their main cures.

The Main Causes of Shortness of Breath

1. Anemia

Cause: Anemia is one of the most common causes of breathlessness. Often I have seen kids (and grown-ups) say “I can't catch my breath”, and Anemia is the reason. Anemia is caused either due to a lack of iron in the blood or that of vitamins in the body. Iron is an essential part of hemoglobin in red blood cells which absorbs oxygen. A lack of iron will cause a lack of oxygen. Except breathing problems, fatigue, increased heartbeat, and cramping are also its symptoms.

Treatment: In case you experience any of the abovementioned symptoms, a simple blood test should be undertaken to tell you if you are anemic. Treatment is usually straightforward: if there is a lack of iron, take iron supplements and if it’s that of vitamins, take vitamin supplements.

2. Anxiety

Causes: An anxious person is prone to hyperventilation, characterized by rapid, shallow breaths. Hyperventilation reduces oxygen concentration in blood, making it difficult for you to breathe. Increased heartbeat, numbness and faintness are symptoms of anxiety as well.

Treatment: In the event that you are, in fact, physically healthy (after a thorough physical check-up), but you still claim, “I can't catch my breath,” then you should see a psychiatrist because anxiety may be the cause. When you feel stressed or anxious, abdominal breathing will provide great relief. If you feel light-headed when doing abdominal breathing, then stop for 20 seconds and repeat. For how to do abdominal breathing, watch the video below:

3. Drug Reactions

Causes: Beta-blockers and other such drugs are notoriously popular for causing shortness of breath. Since they are prescribed for high blood pressure and other heart related ailments, beta-blockers affect receptors lungs, heart and arteries, which in turn cause shortness of breath. Some medications, such as tranquilizers, muscle relaxants and opioid analgesics, can depress breathing. Breathlessness can also be caused by an allergic reaction to medication, such as antibiotics.

Treatment: The most obvious next step is to consult your doctor, since only he/she can alter your medicine and treat you accordingly. Your doctor will most likely prescribe you a new medicine.

4. Heart Failure

Causes: Impending heart failure causes people to often exclaim “I can't catch my breath!” This is due to inefficient circulation of blood (i.e. blood is in reduced supply so oxygen is insufficient). Other symptoms include fatigue, coughing and swelling of the legs and feet.

Treatment: Consult your doctor immediately. Initial steps will involve an EKG and chest X-rays to determine the exact problem. The next steps will usually include prescribed blood-pressure medicine to reduce stress on the heart. Sometimes, a pacemaker may also be installed to correct the heartbeat rhythm. Also, note that a sudden and unwarranted shortness of breath could signal a heart attack, so if this does happen, call 911.

5. Pulmonary Embolism

Causes: A sudden shortness of breath could also signal an embolism. A pulmonary embolism is basically a blood clot in the lungs. If this is the case, emergency treatment is vital for your survival. Other symptoms may include chest pains, coughing (sometimes with blood) and even swelling of parts of the leg.

Treatment: The first and foremost thing you should do is to call 911. A CT scan will most likely be performed. If you do have an embolism then you will probably be hospitalized, given a blood thinner and an oral warfarin to prevent clotting. This treatment is usually continued for 6 months.

6. Other Causes of Shortness of Breath

Shortness of breath is not always a serious or even fatal problem. Here are some other reasons for why I can't catch my breath.

  • Sometimes, it is self-inflicted. This could be caused due to over-exertion, which includes activities such as hard exercise. People often say “I can’t catch my breath” after a long run or jog.
  • There can be other reasons as well, such as pregnancy, mostly in the third trimester. This is caused due to an increased oxygen demand in the body. If this does become a problem, you should immediately consult your doctor.
  • There are other causes and symptoms of shortness of breath, like asthma. You can tell if you are asthmatic, if you are wheezing and can’t inhale properly.
  • Bronchitis or pneumonia can also cause difficulty in breathing when paired with a fever or cold.

My Story of Fighting With Breathlessness

Let me give you my personal example of how I have struggled with breathing problems. My problems were caused due to anxiety. There were deeper reasons for my anxiety and whenever I thought about my problems, I started gasping for air. Although my doctor gave me anxiety medicine for a couple of years, she also taught me a few techniques that really helped. I used to keep a brown paper bag with me and whenever I would feel anxious and breathless, I used the bag to breathe in.

However, if you face similar problems and this does not work for you, then medication might be your best option. The feeling is simply awful but I have learned to control it. The trick is to stay busy and to not think about your problems. Surround yourself with friends and family and have some fun.