Anxiety or something worse?
January 3, 2012 10:16 PM   Subscribe

Wife has shortness of breath- should we be worried? My wife is 29 and physically healthy (eats relatively well and exercises), but recently has shortness of breath on and off. It doesn't seem like a panic attack, as she has no other panic attack symptoms. However, she starts to get scared when its happening which makes it worse. It happens throughout the day on and off for a few weeks and then stops for months at a time. Could this just be stress, or something more serious?
posted by Equiprimordial to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Does she have asthma? An upper respiratory infection? Allergies?
posted by dfriedman at 10:18 PM on January 3, 2012

Seconding checking for asthma. Sounds like it.
posted by Polgara at 10:19 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

See a doctor. It could be anything, from stress to allergies to some serious lung condition that you've never heard of because you're not a doctor and neither am I. Whatever it is, it sounds as though getting treatment for it would seriously improve her quality of life, so I think she should get it looked at, sooner rather than later.
posted by decathecting at 10:20 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Shortness of breath is nothing to fuck with. Doctor.

Possible causes, non-inclusive: cold, sinus infection, flu, heart attack, regular allergies, allergic attack, asthma, stress, panic attack, anxiety disorder, bronchitis, COPD, emphysema, ILD, lung cancer, pneumonia, pneumothorax, pulmonary edema, pulmonary embolism, TB, and a whole slew of other things for a doctor to figure out.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 10:20 PM on January 3, 2012 [5 favorites]

What is she doing when the shortness happens? Has she recently been ill? Is she overweight?

I've had a chest cold/bronchitis/captain trips/plague off and on since mid october... I'm down tot he point of just coughing, and on a day when I get plenty fo rest and relaxing have no trouble... but when I'm at work, on my feet, constantly in motion, talking, I frequently have to stop and hold onto something as I feel woozy and cant' catch my breath. Attempting to take a full, deep breath either triggers a coughing fit or yawn which still leaves me feeling like I can't catch my breath.

Its not like an athsma attack in my case, as there's no wheezing or anything (not once the coughing stops, anyway) just a sensation of pressure and constriction that feels like something is preventing my lungs from fully expanding so that I can breathe. If I can manage to stay calm and take long, shallow breaths I'm usually okay after a couple of minutes, although sometimes it brings on dizzy spells and a feverish feeling.

SEveral friends and coworkers had something similar, though in their cases the respiratory issues faded once the flu-like symptoms passed. One co-worker's daughter was diagnosed with a lingering case of bronchitis from the death-flu, and her symptoms are similar to mine... just not as lingering and fun.
posted by myShanon at 10:25 PM on January 3, 2012

Worst-case scenario, it's pulmonary hypertension, which strikes (predominantly) women of any age and is basically a death sentence. Go to the doctor and rule it out.
posted by Nomyte at 10:31 PM on January 3, 2012

add intense chin itching, and that's pretty much exactly how i'd describe asthma attacks before i knew what they were.

even if it is "just" asthma, it's time to get to the doctor. asthma is more deadly in women.
posted by nadawi at 11:21 PM on January 3, 2012

I get that sometimes, and have for years. I think it's an asthma thing. I get it more when the air's bad or there are pollens around. I have never told my MD. Asthma would be just one more thing I'd rather not have on my medical charts.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:26 PM on January 3, 2012

Get a blood panel...this always happened to me when I had iron-deficiency anemia. Mine would come and go, too--usually around "that time of the month".
posted by aquafortis at 11:27 PM on January 3, 2012

To add another, different anecdote (so you see just how useful getting to a doctor can be :) ), I had this for a while and it was linked to low blood pressure, low iron levels, and low magnesium levels. A blood panel helped figure this out. You want to rule out other stuff.
posted by fraula at 11:51 PM on January 3, 2012

As a MeFite who just finished fucking around and not going to the doctor in a timely fashion for an issue with a Very Important Organ, I suggest that your wife make an appointment as soon as possible. I have asthma, and the shortness of breath feeling is awful to live with.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 2:02 AM on January 4, 2012

I agree with doing to the doctor. Breathing issues are not something to mess around with. Good luck!
posted by pintapicasso at 2:54 AM on January 4, 2012

Nthing going to a doctor, but just wanted to say that yes, it is possible that it's stress. I've experienced off and on shortness of breath for years and have been told it is caused by stress, even though sometimes it is unaccompanied by other symptoms. Still, I have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and do experience anxiety attacks and other symptoms from stress. As far as the shortness of breath when I am otherwise feeling fine, usually it's during times when there are, or have been, several different things going on that cause me to worry, often unconsciously. It doesn't bother me much anymore because when it does happen, which is somewhat rarely, I know not to worry.

So, yes, go to a doctor. Whatever it ends up being, that doesn't change the fact that you want to address it now. Not when it happens again, not when it gets to the point where it's driving her crazy. Even if it is something as "harmless" as stress, honestly, the worrying and wondering is such misery(!) that it's best to find out ASAP.
posted by seriousmoonlight at 3:32 AM on January 4, 2012

We can't tell you what this is.

Breathing is important. DO NOT FUCK AROUND.

posted by tel3path at 3:36 AM on January 4, 2012

Quick advice, from first aid training and from having to deal with asthma in the past. If you ever have shortness of breath, purse your lips and breathe like you are sucking air from a straw. This forces you to slow down your breathing and counteracts the instinct to gasp for air and hyperventilate, and will help calm you down until it passes.
posted by PercussivePaul at 5:39 AM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nthing PercussivePaul. Breath quiet and shallow even if unwanted, "as quiet as a mouse." (Not big and deep like pop culture says.) That will help counteract if it's anxiety/asthma and lots of other stuff. But check with a doctor.
posted by zeek321 at 5:56 AM on January 4, 2012

A new and unknown shortness of breath is one of those things that you should always go to a doctor about. There are definitely benign things that it could be, but there is a list of bad stuff that you want to rule out.
posted by sciencegeek at 6:29 AM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Another vote for see a doctor, and it could definitely be stress. It happened to me because of anxiety. The fact that there are "no other symptoms" doesn't mean anything, because anxiety doesn't need other symptoms. The thing about panic disorders is that they take whatever form will make you start freaking out - they go right to a physical place that makes you sit up and take notice. For some people that's the breath, for others the stomach, or chest pain, or headache.

I don't know that that's what this is, but the way to find out is to go to the doctor. The doctor can rule other things out as possible, which provides peace of mind. And anxiety is very highly treatable. It wouldn't hurt to start right now doing short sessions of deep breathing, say 10 minutes a couple times a day. That won't hurt no matter what the problem is.
posted by Miko at 7:17 AM on January 4, 2012

Even very fit people can have asthma, and may not recognize it as asthma. I get asthma when I exercise when particular allergens or irritants are around. For years I thought swimming felt like THE WATER WAS CRUSHING YOUR CHEST to everyone, which leads to gasping for air; turns out that various pool chemicals irritate my lungs and trigger asthma. Simple inhaler and, bam, oh! that's how people can breathe when playing in the water! Various seasonal allergens also do it; I always just thought, "wow, I must be out of shape after all that summer lounging around" but it turns out, no, autumn triggers asthma and the shortness of breath.

For me the doctor wanted to see me very quickly to rule out a heart attack or heart problem or other super-dire thing; after that they ran some tests over a few visits to nail it down to allergy-induced asthma that only manifests during exertion (or exercise-induced asthma that only manifests during allergies?) and try a few different therapies. So for me there was an initial flurry of "oh good, you won't die of this" and then a more leisurely investigation, particularly getting me in to breathe in the meter during different weather/allergens to get some good data, and giving me a home (less-accurate) meter to chart myself during different things, to help nail it down.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:46 AM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

This happens to me, and the diagnoses I have received on separate occasions were : asthma, panic attack, bronchitis, pneumonia, and generic upper respiratory infection. No one here can possibly know what it is, so if it's not happening RIGHT NOW I'd make an appointment with the regular doctor within the next week. If it's happening RIGHT NOW, go to an urgent care. If she is gasping or can't breathe at all, then obviously go to the ER.
posted by desjardins at 7:55 AM on January 4, 2012

Atrial fibrillation can cause shortness of breath. I have it. It is an irregular and rapid heart beat which some can feel and some can't. See the doctor.
posted by Hobgoblin at 3:16 PM on January 4, 2012

Yeah, a doctor should check this out to rule out Big Nasty Problems. Having said that, when I used to have panic attacks they would manifest with only shortness of breath. Sucking on menthylated cough drops helped things feel more... open.
posted by kamikazegopher at 7:49 PM on January 4, 2012

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