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Difficulty breathing and the need to take a deep breath although may be due to anxiety in which case there is nothing to worry about it can also represent first stages of  shortness of breath (medically called dyspnea) which may be a symptom of serious underlying condition.

Sometimes even healthy person may experience shortness of breath after strenuous exercise, with high altitude, extreme temperatures, or massive obesity. Otherwise shortness of breath is likely a symptom of a medical condition.

Shortness of breath may be the presenting symptom for a wide verity of conditions, that's why it is almost impossible to talk about all the causes of shortness of breath in one topic, maybe a book will do.

For simplification purposes I am going to talk only about the common causes of shortness of breath and will divide them into several categories:

Lung conditions, heart conditions and muscle/nervous conditions

Lung problems.

  • Asthma. Asthma causes your airways to narrow and produce extra mucus that blocks the air entrance. This makes breathing difficult, triggers coughing, and creates an audible sound when the air passes the extra mucus this sound called wheezing. Symptoms vary from person to person and range from minor shortness of breath to life threatening attacks that require intensive care treatment. Some situations may induce asthma attack in some people:
  • Exercise, especially when the air is cold and dry.
  • Occupational asthma, allergy to workplace chemical fumes, dust or gas.
  • Allergy-induced asthma, triggered by pollen, pet dander or cockroaches.
  • COPD. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a condition that blocks airflow. This condition is commonly caused by smoking. It is important to know that COPD causes damage to the lungs that can't be reversed, and treatment can only help control symptoms and slow the progress of the disease.
  • Pneumonia. Often associated with high grade fever, cough, fatigue and flue like symptoms.
  • Pneumothorax. Shortness of breath of sudden onset usually in tall thin young adults.
  • Upper airway obstruction. Common cause of shortness of breath in babies.
  • Tuberculosis. Associated with persistent fever, persistent cough, weight loss and flue like symptoms.
  • Lung cancer. Usually presents with new cough, change in the pattern of old cough or shortness of breath. Lung cancer has very high mortality rate because it is usually diagnosed late.

Heart problems

  • Heart failure. Weak heart is not able to pump all the blood that's why blood build up in the veins of lungs then fluids start to build up in the lungs themselves. As a result heart failure often present with shortness of breath during exercise or on going up the stairs. Another possible symptom is shortness of breath when lying flat.
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Pericarditis

Other problems

  • Anemia. There is not enough red blood cells to carry oxygen from lungs to organs that's why patient with anemia will feel lack of oxygen and the need to breath deeper.
  • Obesity
  • Broken ribs
  • Epiglottitis. Especially in kids.
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Conditions that make your breathing muscles weak: Guillain-Barre syndrome and Myasthenia gravis.

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