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12 Medical Causes for Shortness of Breath

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Shortness of breath, known medically as dyspnea, refers to difficulty breathing and is a common complaint seen by many physicians. Its occurrence can be acute or chronic. Different individuals describe shortness of breath in various ways. Descriptions may include a tightening in the chest, a feeling of being suffocated, or an elephant sitting on the chest. Many causes of shortness of breath are innocent–such as strenuous exercise, high altitudes, extremes in temperature, and deconditioning (being out of shape). With the exception of the previous examples, shortness of breath most likely represents a medical problem and should be evaluated by a physician.

Here are twelve causes of shortness of breath…


1. Pneumonia

Pneumonia represents an infection of the lung. Microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, or fungi may be the cause of pneumonia. Its impact on humans may be mild to life threatening. Pneumonia tends to be more serious at the extremes of age, children younger than 2 and adults older than 65. It also tends to be more devastating in individuals with pre-existing health problems or weakened immune systems. Individuals that smoke or abuse alcohol are at increased risk for developing pneumonia.

Symptoms of pneumonia may include cough, fever, shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. The diagnosis of pneumonia may be made with a chest X-ray. The causative agent may be determined with blood tests or analysis of phlegm. Pneumonia may be confined to one part of a lung (lobar pneumonia) or diffusely spread throughout a lung (bronchopneumonia). Complications of pneumonia may include lung abscess, bacteria in the blood, or accumulation of fluid around the lungs.


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