What’s dyspnea?

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Dyspnea is a respiratory disorder causing difficulty breathing, often accompanied by wheezing, coughing, and bluish fingertips. It can be caused by a variety of medical problems and requires medical attention. Treatment involves securing the airway, anti-anxiety medication, and medical tests to determine the underlying condition.

Dyspnea is a respiratory disorder characterized by difficult and labored breathing that makes the patient feel as if they are choking or struggling for air. It is sometimes called “air hunger,” referring to patients feeling starved for breath, and is caused by a wide variety of medical problems. Difficulty breathing is a serious medical symptom and requires medical attention to resolve the problem causing the difficulty breathing.

Someone with wheezing can experience this condition in a variety of ways. Some patients have difficulty breathing in, while others have difficulty breathing out. It may be difficult to move air through the lungs, or it may be possible to inhale and exhale normally, but the patient may feel starved for air because the lungs’ ability to diffuse gas is decreased. You may feel a pinch-like sensation in your chest, along with a sense of pressure that makes it difficult to breathe.

Along with the symptoms that are experienced by the patient, dyspnea has some very obvious physical symptoms that can be observed by other people. People with breathing difficulties often have loud, rapid breathing that may be accompanied by wheezing, coughing, or other signs of exertion. The fingertips and toes may turn bluish to white due to poor circulation, and the patient may become pale, sweaty, or agitated.

Lung disease, circulatory problems, and a wide variety of other conditions can lead to wheezing. The condition can also appear in response to physical or emotional exertion. Some breathlessness is expected and normal with strenuous exercise, but excessive difficulty breathing or periods of prolonged coughing, the development of fluid in the lungs, and chest pain after or during exercise are signs that medical attention is needed.

Treatment of dyspnea often begins with securing the airway to make the patient more comfortable. Anti-anxiety medications may also be provided to reduce panic. Then, a variety of medical tests can be used to explore the cause of the problem, including imaging studies to look at the lungs, blood tests to assess overall physical health, and a physical exam. After a diagnosis has been reached, a treatment plan can be developed to resolve the underlying condition, hopefully the shortness of breath will subside as well.

Dyspnea is also associated with lung cancer and chronic lung disease, in which case management of dyspnea may be a specific part of the treatment plan.

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