Mysterious shortness of breath

Posted by gabrielm @gabrielm, May 31, 2018

I will try to make this as short as possible, but this has been going on for over 5 years, so it might be farily long. 

Beginning in summer of 2012, I began having shortness of breath (SOB) with no other symptoms. I felt a constant need to yawn, and every few breaths wouldn't satisfy the SOB. I would take a deep breath, and felt like it would get "stuck" before satisfying the air hunger feeling. About every 3-5 deep breaths would satisfy it, only for it to return a minute later. 

I got an endoscopy and other tests done, which revealed that I had some esophageal erosion due to acid reflux and a slight hiatal hernia and was diagnosed with GERD. I had always have bad heartburn, so I was prescribed with Prilosec, which I have been taking daily since them. I've tried stopping it a few times but the reflux always comes back a lot worse. 

Lung tests and x-rays were normal. Heart tests normal. Blood test revealed a slight anemia but otherwise pretty normal. 

I did some research reading forums where someone suggested taking vitamin B-12. Strangely, I took it and the SOB disappeared almost instantly. However, it only lasted a few days for it to return just as bad. I then started taking an iron supplement, which again made the SOB disappear quickly- same thing; symptom returned days later. 

After further research, I came across a breathing exercise method called the Buteyko method. Essentially you do a lot of breath holding to build up CO2 and reduce breathing as the theory is that I had chronic hyperventilation causing too much CO2 to exit my body. After applying the method and reducing my breathing, the SOB disappeared after only 2 days and I felt completely normal. I continued the method a few more days then no longer felt the need to pursue the exercises. I was normal for a whole year when the SOB once again returned with some chest tightness. I applied the method again and the symptom went away, this time with a little more effort; after about 3 weeks. I included physical exercise which also helped with my breathing. 

After that, I was normal for about 2 years. I mistakenly stopped or at least slowed down exercise and the SOB returned once again. I applied the method and began running for exercise but the SOB kept getting worse. It got so bad, I had multiple panic attacks and the feeling of completely empty lungs with the inability to satisfy it with deep breaths. I had to stop exercise altogether, apply the Buteyko method and do breathing exercises very carefully with very light and slow exercise. This helped, but it took many weeks for the SOB to improve. Then, it was almost normal when over a year ago as I was running, I couldn't get a deep breath to satisfy exercise-induced SOB. I have had SOB continuously since then (a year and a half). 

I once again started doing breathing exercises and slowly building up physical exercise, but I can't do any prolonged cardio activity because the SOB gets to a point where deep breathing will not satisfy it. While the breathing exercises have helped, they have had very little effect compared to previous efforts. It seems that every time the symptom returned, greater effort yields few results.

I suspect there is something, some underlying cause that is causing the SOB that has alluded me this entire time. 

So for the past few months to a year, the SOB is worse on some days, better on others, but never gone. There's no rhyme or reason or pattern for it. It's just there, sometimes affecting my sleep. I sometimes can't get a deep breath to satisfy it every now and then, but for the most part, a big gulp of air will satisfy it. But it returns seconds to minutes later. It's as though every breath doesn't deliver what it's supposed to, the SOB builds up, and then I have to take a big gulp of air to get rid of the feeling, pattern repeats. My breathing pattern is normal, however. I don't feel like anything physical is happening, but sometimes it feels like my airways and nostrils are slightly inflamed due to allergies, but when I don't feel inflammation the SOB is still there. 

Recent lung function tests show normal- I don't have asthma, or any other problems with my lungs. Heart tests are normal though I did have about a two week bout of heart palpitations which came and went. Haven't had any for a while- it just mysteriously started happening then stopped. Blood tests are normal, though tests always show a slight elevation of biliruben which my doc thinks is Gilbert's disease. 

I don't have sleep apnea (normal test), bloody oxygenation is normal, heart rate normal. 

I recently saw local naturopath (since mainstream docs aren't able to help) who immediately suspected a liver problem when I described my SOB, possibly liver inflammation. He used an electrodermal testing machine to test his theory which did seem to show a problem with my liver and gallbladder. He gave me digestive enzymes and a gallbladder formula to help clear a bile duct clog, thus reducing liver inflammation. He also determined with the machine that I have an egg sensitivity so I've been avoiding eggs. 

Been taking this and avoiding eggs for a couple of months, but there has been no noticeable improvement. Everything else is normal. Emotionally I'm normal- no anxiety, depression, etc. The SOB seems to be the only symptom of something, but always comes back worse, until a year and half ago when it came back and has remained since. I feel like I shouldn't have to do breath holding exercises every day just to maintain my breathing well enough to do every day things. 

Does anyone have any idea of a possible underlying cause?

Hi Gabriel

I see no one has responded in half a year and as I just stumbled upon your post, I saw fit to write a short answer to your problems.
Prolonged shortness of breath (accompanied by other symptoms as for instance lightheadedness/dizziness and headaches) are sometimes caused by, as you stated, chronic hyperventilation. This means that you either inhale too deeply or inhale too frequently for a longer time. GERD is known to cause shortness of breath when acid reaches airways, but as I read your story I do not think GERD is the cause for your prolonged experiences with SOB.

Based on the relief you feel when taking supplements of which you believe they help, in combination with positive effects of exercise and the overall prolonged experience of symptoms, chronic hyperventilation does seem a reasonable explanation for what you're experiencing. This, as I read your story (no obvious signs of disease/malfunctions concerning heart or lungs) leads me to believe your problems are not physiological at base. It is known that anxiety and/or depression can influence breathing severely. These mental issues are not always obvious in daily life. Many people don't know they're going through such issues. Have you considered looking in this direction? If you keep experiencing the same symptoms in the same manner, it could be fruitful to consult a therapist.

Since it has been 6 months, may I ask how you're doing now? Have you noticed improvements? If so, how did you improve your situation?

Best regards and I hope this answer helps!

PS I am not a doctor. I have however read (way too many) studies concerning this specific issue.

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@chrisdh5

Hi Gabriel

I see no one has responded in half a year and as I just stumbled upon your post, I saw fit to write a short answer to your problems.
Prolonged shortness of breath (accompanied by other symptoms as for instance lightheadedness/dizziness and headaches) are sometimes caused by, as you stated, chronic hyperventilation. This means that you either inhale too deeply or inhale too frequently for a longer time. GERD is known to cause shortness of breath when acid reaches airways, but as I read your story I do not think GERD is the cause for your prolonged experiences with SOB.

Based on the relief you feel when taking supplements of which you believe they help, in combination with positive effects of exercise and the overall prolonged experience of symptoms, chronic hyperventilation does seem a reasonable explanation for what you're experiencing. This, as I read your story (no obvious signs of disease/malfunctions concerning heart or lungs) leads me to believe your problems are not physiological at base. It is known that anxiety and/or depression can influence breathing severely. These mental issues are not always obvious in daily life. Many people don't know they're going through such issues. Have you considered looking in this direction? If you keep experiencing the same symptoms in the same manner, it could be fruitful to consult a therapist.

Since it has been 6 months, may I ask how you're doing now? Have you noticed improvements? If so, how did you improve your situation?

Best regards and I hope this answer helps!

PS I am not a doctor. I have however read (way too many) studies concerning this specific issue.

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Thanks for the reply! I have explored the possibility of anxiety and stress, but I don't experience any of that, at least beyond the norm. I might have a stressed out day now and then, but I'm not a stressful person and am pretty easy-going. I don't have anxiety. The SOB is just always there. Always. Whether I'm at work, at home, stressed, not stressed, but stress for me is very uncommon. I have a low-stress job. So I'm not convinced it's that. So I still have no idea what it is; I'm looking into submitting my case to CrowdMed.

I'm doing alright, thank you for asking. I would say that over the past 6 months I have experienced periods of improvement from days to even weeks. Not 100%, but enough to where I didn't really notice it all day. Then I would have random bouts where it would get kind of bad, where I just can't get a deep breath, and when I do it doesn't last long before I'm desperately needing another. That would go on for a few days, and then it would get better again. So it's still up and down, and it's manageable but not normal at all. I still do exercise when I can, to an intensity that my breathing will allow- some weightlifting sessions allow me to lift a decent amount of weight with not as much rest in between, and other times I have to cut my sessions short after lifting light weights and having to rest for 5 minutes in between sets. So it all depends on the day I guess.

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@gabrielm

Thanks for the reply! I have explored the possibility of anxiety and stress, but I don't experience any of that, at least beyond the norm. I might have a stressed out day now and then, but I'm not a stressful person and am pretty easy-going. I don't have anxiety. The SOB is just always there. Always. Whether I'm at work, at home, stressed, not stressed, but stress for me is very uncommon. I have a low-stress job. So I'm not convinced it's that. So I still have no idea what it is; I'm looking into submitting my case to CrowdMed.

I'm doing alright, thank you for asking. I would say that over the past 6 months I have experienced periods of improvement from days to even weeks. Not 100%, but enough to where I didn't really notice it all day. Then I would have random bouts where it would get kind of bad, where I just can't get a deep breath, and when I do it doesn't last long before I'm desperately needing another. That would go on for a few days, and then it would get better again. So it's still up and down, and it's manageable but not normal at all. I still do exercise when I can, to an intensity that my breathing will allow- some weightlifting sessions allow me to lift a decent amount of weight with not as much rest in between, and other times I have to cut my sessions short after lifting light weights and having to rest for 5 minutes in between sets. So it all depends on the day I guess.

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@gabrielm It sounds like allergies. Are you getting phlegm in your lungs and some chest discomfort? I went through a lot of that. I do have allergic asthma, and my allergies were triggering the issue. I would get repeating chest infections because of abundant phlegm. I've made some changes to reduce dust and dander exposure and it helped me tremendously. I prevent exposure when cleaning with a surgical type mask that is as good as a HEPA filter, 3M # 1820, use a HEPA filter right next to the bed, blowing on me as I sleep because we are more vulnerable at night, allergy shots, and antihistamines, and a preventative inhaler to fall back on. I never completely got my lungs cleared until I could break the cycle, and I had a racing heart a few times, and some infections that required antibiotics. You may want to go through allergy testing. I am allergic to my cats, but I can coexist with them now, and I do rub them with a wet hand to reduce dander.

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@gabrielm– Good morning, I'm wondering if you have seen an ENT, ears, nose and throat doctor to rule out allergies. I know the feeling of panic of not feeling like you can breathe because of my lung cancer.

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@gabrielm omg i recently started experiencing the same thing. I am not stressed or have anxiety. It started with me after I started running. I dont have that problem while i am running its several hours later then i will have days that its better than other. Have you had any relief?

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@gabrielm and welcome @tonyagregg to connect. This past year I had a terrible year with very bad upper stomach pains. I finally went to my GI guy and it was gerd! It can bring on a multitude of symptoms. Have either of you considered this? It can certainly cause a shortness of breath because if there's pressure that's built up, it will hurt.

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@merpreb

@gabrielm and welcome @tonyagregg to connect. This past year I had a terrible year with very bad upper stomach pains. I finally went to my GI guy and it was gerd! It can bring on a multitude of symptoms. Have either of you considered this? It can certainly cause a shortness of breath because if there's pressure that's built up, it will hurt.

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I do have GERD. I don't know how it relates to SOB. I have been taking Prilosec every day for years, so that I don't have the heartburn. @merpreb, I did happen to see an ENT a few month ago, sometime last year. I do have allergies of some sort, and it does effect my breathing, but even when I don't have allergies or allergy symptoms, the SOB is still there.

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@tonyagregg

@gabrielm omg i recently started experiencing the same thing. I am not stressed or have anxiety. It started with me after I started running. I dont have that problem while i am running its several hours later then i will have days that its better than other. Have you had any relief?

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Sounds similar to me @tonyagregg! It's still there, some days better than others, but I can at least live with it. I can't do intense physical exercise. But I still always feel like I need to take a deep breath. It's pretty constant but not as terrible.

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@gabrielm

I do have GERD. I don't know how it relates to SOB. I have been taking Prilosec every day for years, so that I don't have the heartburn. @merpreb, I did happen to see an ENT a few month ago, sometime last year. I do have allergies of some sort, and it does effect my breathing, but even when I don't have allergies or allergy symptoms, the SOB is still there.

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@gabrielm– Shortness of breath, also called dyspnea, occurs with GERD because stomach acid that creeps into the esophagus can enter the lungs, particularly during sleep, and cause swelling of the airways. … Such airway damage can affect breathing by causing coughing or wheezing.Jun 27, 2017"
https://www.healthline.com/health/gerd/shortness-of-breath

Liked by gabrielm

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@merpreb

@gabrielm– Shortness of breath, also called dyspnea, occurs with GERD because stomach acid that creeps into the esophagus can enter the lungs, particularly during sleep, and cause swelling of the airways. … Such airway damage can affect breathing by causing coughing or wheezing.Jun 27, 2017"
https://www.healthline.com/health/gerd/shortness-of-breath

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@gabrielm @merpreb I alo can do intense exercise and feel good while doing it. It actually started when I started running and I thought I just I was deconditioned but months later I am still trying to catch a deep breath. My oxygen level is good as well as my EKG and pulmonary function test all normal! I am 43 in good heath and never have I had any heartburn or problems with reflux nor do i have allergies. I am constant yawning or trying to get that deep breth that only last for 30sec or so. I guess i wouldnt call it SOB its just that I have the need to fill my lungs up by yawning or sighing. I read about psedodyspnea and it bascially talks about anexity and reflux and again I dont have. I am happy at my place in life. I just dont understand why all of a sudden this started. Is it a neuro thing i wonder at times? I have tried breathing txs and that does nothing. I guess I can live with it but at times its annoying and I just want it to go away. I am on no meds and have a health lifestyle. I would like to keep in touch with you guys just in case there is a miracle answer. Thanks for listening

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@tonyagregg

@gabrielm @merpreb I alo can do intense exercise and feel good while doing it. It actually started when I started running and I thought I just I was deconditioned but months later I am still trying to catch a deep breath. My oxygen level is good as well as my EKG and pulmonary function test all normal! I am 43 in good heath and never have I had any heartburn or problems with reflux nor do i have allergies. I am constant yawning or trying to get that deep breth that only last for 30sec or so. I guess i wouldnt call it SOB its just that I have the need to fill my lungs up by yawning or sighing. I read about psedodyspnea and it bascially talks about anexity and reflux and again I dont have. I am happy at my place in life. I just dont understand why all of a sudden this started. Is it a neuro thing i wonder at times? I have tried breathing txs and that does nothing. I guess I can live with it but at times its annoying and I just want it to go away. I am on no meds and have a health lifestyle. I would like to keep in touch with you guys just in case there is a miracle answer. Thanks for listening

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Welcome @tonyagregg. I'm also including @gabrielm in this post. I'm glad that you have spoken up. It's always disconcerting when something suddenly changes in our body, especially breathing! What kind of a doctor did you go to? It sounds like the doctor tested for the usual causes of shortness of breath. Did they also do any blood work? If you are planning to live with this than you at least should know what is causing it and how to manage it. I know that there are things in life that can't be explained, but a lot can. And there are a lot of things that you weren't tested for. If need be please make an appointment with a good Pulmonologist. They are the specialists.
Mayo has a great explanation of the usual explanations:https://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/shortness-of-breath/basics/causes/sym-20050890
I have exercise induced asthma. No tests shows that I have asthma.or Exercise-induced bronchoconstriction
https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/exercise-induced-asthma/symptoms-causes/syc-20372300
I wish you the best in trying to find the cause. Please let me know if you do!

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@tonyagregg

@gabrielm @merpreb I alo can do intense exercise and feel good while doing it. It actually started when I started running and I thought I just I was deconditioned but months later I am still trying to catch a deep breath. My oxygen level is good as well as my EKG and pulmonary function test all normal! I am 43 in good heath and never have I had any heartburn or problems with reflux nor do i have allergies. I am constant yawning or trying to get that deep breth that only last for 30sec or so. I guess i wouldnt call it SOB its just that I have the need to fill my lungs up by yawning or sighing. I read about psedodyspnea and it bascially talks about anexity and reflux and again I dont have. I am happy at my place in life. I just dont understand why all of a sudden this started. Is it a neuro thing i wonder at times? I have tried breathing txs and that does nothing. I guess I can live with it but at times its annoying and I just want it to go away. I am on no meds and have a health lifestyle. I would like to keep in touch with you guys just in case there is a miracle answer. Thanks for listening

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Yes @tonyagregg, I'd like to keep in touch with you. Sounds like what you have is pretty similar to me. It's been much worse before, but it's stabled out. Still not gone by any means, but I can at least live with it. Let's stay in touch. Maybe we can tag team our research or let each other know if we find some kind of answers.

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@gabrielm

Yes @tonyagregg, I'd like to keep in touch with you. Sounds like what you have is pretty similar to me. It's been much worse before, but it's stabled out. Still not gone by any means, but I can at least live with it. Let's stay in touch. Maybe we can tag team our research or let each other know if we find some kind of answers.

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@gabrielm Thanks! I sure will keep you informed.

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I have some of the same symptoms
Feel like I can’t take a satisfying deep breath
If I don’t dwell on it I’m good most of the time
But it comes and goes.

First time was 30 years ago and almost nothing since then and then this aug it started up again
Had a stress bloods taken all good. Just waiting for for it to dissapear

Liked by catmom777

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@joeyosi215

I have some of the same symptoms
Feel like I can’t take a satisfying deep breath
If I don’t dwell on it I’m good most of the time
But it comes and goes.

First time was 30 years ago and almost nothing since then and then this aug it started up again
Had a stress bloods taken all good. Just waiting for for it to dissapear

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30 years ago did you see a doctor and blood test taken? If so, what did they diagnose you with? I have notice my breathing is rapid and shallow and some days i am constantly trying to take a deep satisfying breath. I am so tired of feeling this way. I am going back to the doctor next week for more test.

Liked by catmom777

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