Shortness of breath is not a medical condition but rather a subjective symptom of breathlessness. This phenomenon is also known as air hunger, and medically as dyspnea. In many cases shortness of breath is a symptom of normal breathing but it may also be a symptom of various underlying medical conditions. Describing the shortness of breath is rather troublesome and the best possible description may be “the subjective experience of breathing discomfort characterized by distinct sensations of varying intensity” Acute shortness of the breath usually lasts for a couple of minutes to a couple of hours. Chronic shortness of breath can last for a couple of weeks or months.
Causes of shortness of breath
In most cases, shortness of breath is a symptom of many different, usually pulmonary, conditions. The most common causes of shortness of breath are asthma, pneumonia, cardiac ischemia, interstitial lung disease, congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or other psychogenic causes.
Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease of the airways that results in airflow obstruction and bronchospasm. As a result, the breathing is difficult and symptoms of wheezing, coughing, chest tightness and shortness of breath typically occur.
Pneumonia and cardiac ischemia
Pneumonia is an inflammatory condition of the lung usually caused by bacteria or viruses. Difficulty breathing is one of the most prominent symptoms of the disease. Shortness of breath is just an acute symptom of this disease that normally resolves within two to four weeks, with a proper treatment.
Cardiac ischemia occurs when the heart muscle receives insufficient blood flow. As a result, there is not enough oxygen in the blood and shortness of breath occurs. This is a serious condition and the most common cause of death in the Western world.
Heart and lung diseases
Similarly, shortness of breath occurs as a result of heart failure, which is defined as failure of heart to supply sufficient blood flow to meet the needs of the body. Coughing and shortness of breath are common symptoms of this condition.
Interstitial lung disease affects the space around the sacs of the lungs and causes scaring of the lung tissue. It also causes shortness of breath.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD ) is the co-occurrence of chronic bronchitis and emphysema, diseases that cause airways in the lungs to become narrowed. One of the most common symptoms of COPD is shortness of breath.
Treatment for shortness of breath
If a breathing difficulty is new, or if it is getting worse, a sufferer should seek medical attention and find the real cause behind this, otherwise normal, symptom. Shortness of the breath is treated depending on its underlying cause. People should always seek medical attention if their shortness of the breath comes on suddenly and interferes with breathing, or if a person completely stops breathing.