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Numbness? Difficulty Swallowing? Shortness of Breath?!?!
February 1, 2013 9:40 AM   Subscribe

Numbness? Difficulty Swallowing? Shortness of Breath?!?!

Hello All,
I know that YANMD, and I fully intend to see one as soon as my new heath insurance policy is activated in about 2 weeks. I am just looking for some thoughts/advice from people who have encountered something similar.

I am in my mid-20's, relatively fit and healthy, no known medical conditions. In the past two months, I have had 3..."episodes" for lack of a better term. It will start with shortness of breath and difficult swallowing, then a tight feeling in my chest. I feel like I really have to concentrate on breathing, and that if I stop concentrating I may choke. This is followed by numbness and tingling throughout my body and decreased motor coordination. This condition freaks me out, so I start to panic and sort of hyperventilate, most likely making things worse. The most recent one was also accompanied with trembling in my hands. All of this will last maybe 30 minutes to an hour, after which time everything goes back to normal and I feel fine.

The first two episodes were both in the car after nights of drinking and little sleep; up until now I was chalking it up to getting older, living to hard and needing to cut back. This most recent happened in the office after a relatively chill night and decent amount of sleep.

Never experienced anything like this before. One factor I had been considering - I recently moved to Denver and thought it may have been taking me a while to adjust to the higher altitude. But I have been here 2 full months now, so I assume I should be acclimated.

Again, I fully intend to see a doctor as soon as I can. I will most likely be telling him exactly this though. Anyone have any suggestions for coping in the meantime? Strategies for relaxing and riding it out if it occurs again? Experience with something similar or ideas with what it might be? Any comments or advice is greatly appreciated; as always, thanks for the help!
posted by cccp47 to Health & Fitness (22 answers total)
 
Sounds like an anxiety attack / panic attack. Have you explored that idea?
posted by PorcineWithMe at 9:43 AM on February 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


Yeah, it sounds like asthma. If you know anyone who has an inhaler, perhaps you can borrow it just in case this happens before you can get to an MD (I know you're not supposed to use other people's prescriptions, but people tend to be a little more share-y with inhalers, and you hopefully wouldn't need it, but it would be good just in case).
posted by DoubleLune at 9:46 AM on February 1, 2013


Just chiming in as an asthmatic, and yeah everyone is different, but this does NOT sound like asthma to me. I never feel like I'm going to choke, or have any trouble swallowing. Also I've never heard of asthma coming on as a result of hangover or fatigue.

OP if they diagnose you with asthma then yeah, maybe, but if they give you an inhaler and it doesn't do anything, then get back in there immediately and get them to look into it more closely. And do go asap - periods of trouble breathing is not something to mess about with.
posted by greenish at 10:11 AM on February 1, 2013


Does sound like a panic attack, or maybe asthma. I've had both and they can feel similar. Take careful note of the events immediately preceding an 'episode,' including any possible emotional, environmental or dietary triggers, and bring as much information with you to the doctor as possible.

30 minutes to an hour? That sounds a bit concerning. IANAD but if your lips or fingernails start to turn blue or you can't finish sentences, go to the ER. If it's a panic attack, you will be terrified, but if it's asthma...not to scare you, but that could be quite serious.

Also, re: DoubleLune's suggestion, please please do not share anyone's inhaler as--people do it, but it is still medication! And medication which you do not have a prescription for, and which can cause side effects and possibly harm you. Just don't.
posted by epanalepsis at 10:13 AM on February 1, 2013


Just chiming in as an asthmatic, and yeah everyone is different, but this does NOT sound like asthma to me. I never feel like I'm going to choke, or have any trouble swallowing.

@greenish, everyone is indeed different. When I have an asthma attack, I absolutely do feel like I'm going to choke (among other fun symptoms). And the hangover or fatigue could be a red herring and there is some other thing that the OP is doing/being exposed to/etc that happens in those situations.
posted by epanalepsis at 10:15 AM on February 1, 2013


Nthing panic attack. For me, panic attacks are almost entirely physical, and often the only anxiety I feel is about the symptoms I am experiencing. So don't rule it out because you didn't feel anxious. Also, asthma and anxiety can trigger and exacerbate each other, so that's something else maybe to just keep in mind.
posted by catatethebird at 10:18 AM on February 1, 2013


IANAD, but I've had panic attacks, and while this has elements of a panic attack, I am not sure that's all that's going on here, though that could be part of what you're experiencing.

Any history of food allergies, or anything of that sort? Your symptoms sound like what my brother in law experienced when he discovered he had a shellfish allergy, which is to say, it sounds a bit like anaphylactic shock. Not to alarm you, but it's something to take very seriously.

Good luck, OP -- I hope your MD can figure this out ASAP!
posted by mosk at 10:20 AM on February 1, 2013


Edit: I did not mean to suggest that panic attacks are not serious. They are, and they can make your life absolutely miserable, but they are also treatable. Good luck.
posted by epanalepsis at 10:23 AM on February 1, 2013


it sounds a bit like anaphylactic shock.

Except that anaphylactic shock doesn't just go away 30 minutes later. Listen, it's OK to tell people their symptoms sound serious, but it really bothers me if people stop by a thread and toss out a specific killer, scary diagnosis to someone who's obviously freaking out to begin with.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:28 AM on February 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


It sounds like my panic attacks as well. They don't actually have to start with you being nervous, by the way- I think that sometimes people think that they do and rule it out as a possibility.
posted by winna at 10:51 AM on February 1, 2013


It will start with shortness of breath and difficult swallowing, then a tight feeling in my chest. I feel like I really have to concentrate on breathing, and that if I stop concentrating I may choke. This is followed by numbness and tingling throughout my body and decreased motor coordination.

This sounds like very, very low level exposure to a nerve agent (cholinesterase inhibitor) to me.

Have you had an exterminator out recently, or been handling a new flea collar a lot?

The connection to drinking could be explained if this is the result of a chronic exposure which only has these symptoms when your liver is slightly compromised, which would allow the concentration in your body to rise because your liver isn't getting rid of it as fast as usual.
posted by jamjam at 10:53 AM on February 1, 2013


IANAD but doesn't it take 3 months to replace the red blood cells? Also, drinking at a higher altitude when you're not used to it, maybe a bit too much until you've gotten used to living there. Make sure you stay hydrated.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 11:15 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


This sounds a lot like panic attacks I've had.
posted by brilliantine at 11:41 AM on February 1, 2013


It sounds like a panic attack to me, too. Here's the Mayo Clinic's symptom list. I have panic attacks from time to time; I almost never feel particularly stressed right before it happens, and usually it is just the physical symptoms until, like you say, I start getting panicky about that.

On the other hand, the Mayo Clinic's list of symptoms for a heart attack is almost identical to the one for a panic attack. If you have chest pain, I'd get to an ER, insurance be damned.
posted by looli at 12:29 PM on February 1, 2013


These symptoms could be:

1. Asthma

2. Panic attack

3. Anaphalaxis

For the next two weeks do this:

1. Elimination diet-two fold, if there's a food-stuff that's causing this, you should be symptom free while you're in the first 3 weeks.

2. Stop drinking and any recreational drugs.

3. Drink a lot of water. If the altitude is bothering you, you might be oxygen starved, water has lots of oxygen. (I learned this skiing.)

4. Keep a diary. Write down what you're eating, where you are, what you were doing and what your emotional state of mind was prior to the attack and during it. This can be very helpful.

Make an appointment NOW for a GP.

Don't die waiting for your insurance to kick in. If it gets bad, go to urgent care, doc in a box or an ER.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:22 PM on February 1, 2013


//Except that anaphylactic shock doesn't just go away 30 minutes later. Listen, it's OK to tell people their symptoms sound serious, but it really bothers me if people stop by a thread and toss out a specific killer, scary diagnosis to someone who's obviously freaking out to begin with.

Anaphylaxis can indeed go away on its own, its not an automatic killer or anything.

OP- aspirin can also bring on similar symptoms, had you taken it before these episodes by any chance?
posted by fshgrl at 3:06 PM on February 1, 2013


3. Drink a lot of water. If the altitude is bothering you, you might be oxygen starved, water has lots of oxygen. (I learned this skiing.)

Drinking water will keep you hydrated. Drinking water does not help with oxygen deprivation.
posted by Nomyte at 3:42 PM on February 1, 2013 [9 favorites]


You know that shortness of breath, tingling, numbness and tightness in your chest are all symptoms of a heart attack, right? I think if it happens again, you should really see a doctor whether or not you are covered by insurance yet.
posted by lollusc at 4:19 PM on February 1, 2013


This sounds like a panic attack to me too. The only time I ever had one it was immediately after taking a big old bite of something that turned out to be moldy, and I went to the emergency room, where the ER doc got a good laugh at my expense.
posted by town of cats at 7:56 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


You need to go to the ED the next time this happens. There are any number of neurological, cardiovascular, pulmonary or psychological conditions that come to mind that may cause these symptoms.
posted by brevator at 9:21 PM on February 1, 2013


Anaphylaxis can indeed go away on its own, its not an automatic killer or anything.

An allergic reaction can certainly go away shortly on its own, and potentially anaphylaxis too, although to have a systemic allergic reaction that severe and have it go away that quickly would be unusual. Anaphylactic shock specifically means having a systemic allergic reaction so severe it is life-threatening - "shock" means that your blood pressure has tanked due to the severity of your body's response to the reaction. It is a very serious and life-threatening diagnosis. If you're sick enough that you're in shock then you don't go on about your business a few minutes later. IANYD but I do treat allergic reactions, anaphylaxis, and shock as my job.

My point wasn't to debate the possibility that this could be an allergic reaction - my point was that as a medical professional, it bothers me when people throw around terms without really knowing what they mean in a way that could be frightening to the question asker.

And if you really think that a person on the internet is in anaphylactic shock, the right answer is not "hey, not to worry you unduly, but ask your doctor if you might have [insert potentially fatal diagnosis]" - the right answer is "get to an emergency department immediately the next time you have these symptoms so that a physician can evaluate whether you have a serious medical issue."
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:25 PM on February 1, 2013 [13 favorites]


The common denominator causing the symptoms for most of the things above is low blood pressure (IANAD). You should go to a doctor if it happens again, but... Make sure you're well hydrated. Make sure you're getting enough salt in your diet (but, obviously, not too much). If it happens again lie down and raise your feet above the level of your head. Once your throat doesn't feel constricted, eat a small snack and drink some water (or a sports drink like Gatorade). This isn't at all a substitute for actually diagnosing and treating what's wrong with you, and you really should go to a doctor.
posted by anaelith at 1:47 AM on February 2, 2013


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