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?

@helpnywhereucan

I'm going to go ahead and declare victory on this one. It has been a gut wrenching couple of months but I'm finally sleeping through the night and have resumed my normal activities. I used a variety of things (see my previous posts). My SOB started after a cold. I did have it during physical activity. And my iron level was slightly low. I also had sinus congestion.

For anyone seeking options, I think my issue was related to electrolytes since the ER stated my potassium was a little low. I incorporated more potassium rich foods, I started taking whole foods vitamin c, exercised and drank plenty of water. I noticed the SOB was worse when I was dehydrated (which throws off your electrolytes), and I think the final thing that made a difference was I started eating more salt. Whenever I felt it acting up I would make sure I added sea salt (Himalayan sea salt) to my meals since it's loaded with minerals and it would stop. Sodium should be balanced with potassium so don't eat too much salt without eating enough potassium rich foods.

Another thing that helped was focusing on alkalinity. If the body becomes too acidic from not eating enough fruits and vegetables, it can throw your body into survival mode (alkalosis) which will cause shortness of breath, weird C02 levels and a whole lot of bad things. If you deal with heartburn this could be your situation. Research the terms alkalosis and acidosis to learn more.

I switched to a whole foods multivitamin since conventional ones can be acidic.

I walk at a gentle pace since I read it can normalize C02 overtime.

I'm not sure what the connection is with those of us with low iron but I did research the work of Morley Robbins who states that there is a complex relationship between iron in the body and low iron tests could mean there's too much iron in the tissues and that creates an acidic body which will also cause SOB. A few of his recommendations resonated with me so I incorporated them and felt better right away ie, whole foods vitamin C.

Everyone's body is different. I decided to follow the route of improving my overall general health and would encourage anyone to try that first. I'd also encourage everyone to do their own research. The human body is very complex and sometimes doctors don't know or don't take the time and are quick to dismiss patient symptoms. SOB is a life altering symptom of a deeper issue. If it's related to anxiety…that can be traced back to diet, exercise, mineral status, stress management etc. If it's relate to GERD or silent reflux, again that's an issue with acidity and that can be balanced by a change in diet to include more alkalizing foods and minerals. Be determined to find a solution and get your life back. Prayers and best wishes to all of you. Thanks to all of you for your contribution to this board. We never know how many people will stumble across this board and find the solution to their problem here.

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@helpnywhereucan
Thank you for sharing your Victory!!
You have really shown the importance of being your own best advocate for your health. Yes, each one of us is unique. It sounds like you are committed to making and keeping changes in your own lifestyle after an ER visit. Was this an instant decision? Was it hard to adhere to? I invite you to take a look at the Healthy Living Discussion Group. I will be happy to met you there, or to help you locate a topic of interest. https://connect.mayoclinic.org/group/healthy-living/

How did you 'stumble' across Connect?

Liked by godislove

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@rosemarya

@helpnywhereucan
Thank you for sharing your Victory!!
You have really shown the importance of being your own best advocate for your health. Yes, each one of us is unique. It sounds like you are committed to making and keeping changes in your own lifestyle after an ER visit. Was this an instant decision? Was it hard to adhere to? I invite you to take a look at the Healthy Living Discussion Group. I will be happy to met you there, or to help you locate a topic of interest. https://connect.mayoclinic.org/group/healthy-living/

How did you 'stumble' across Connect?

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just wanted to pass along a great way to use a new style mouth piece for your breathing machine.it is called a PHILIPS RESPIRONICS SIDE STREAM PLUS. it doubles the out put of med stream to inhale, pass this on if you like it. thanks

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@nycmom

Hope I'm not bothering you with too many questions…I really appreciated your feedback. Do you recall how long your episodes of SOB lasted? Like was it a few months? or more like days? I'm going on over a month. Did. you find that your anxiety heightened significantly while you felt like you had to take a deep breath? I went on a run this morning and then did strength training. Only after that am I having a pretty bad day in terms of SOB. I am just so confused as to whether it is an underlying disease or truly a tick or some kind of psychosomatic event. Also, when my episodes get bad I notice a mild/moderate pain above my heart when I breathe in. I was checked out by a cardiologist and he said all was fine. I wonder if the constant deep breathing is exacerbating my lungs and causing irritation.

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@nycmom you are not bothering me at all! I was in search of answers too when mine started. Mine started back in November of last year until this may 6 months. I felt the exact same way you did. The more I would try to catch a deep satisfying breath and couldn't, i would become more anxious and fustrated which then made it worse. Just like you if I was preoccupied with something I didnt do it, but just as soon as I became still I would think about it and the cycle would start. As soon as my eyes opened in the morning I would start thinking about it. My chest would hurt too, but I think that was because I would struggling using my chest muscles to catch a deep breath. The doctor told me if it doesnt wake me up at night and if its not a major organ ( which was not after many extensive test) that is has to be a tick. Occasionally I still feel the urge but I will just resist it. Was it easy at first…NO! I had to keep reminding myself that I was fine. I don't mind to answer any questions anytime. I just hope this helps you, because I was there and it was so frustrating. Keep me posted please.

Liked by kjconrad

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@nycmom

Hope I'm not bothering you with too many questions…I really appreciated your feedback. Do you recall how long your episodes of SOB lasted? Like was it a few months? or more like days? I'm going on over a month. Did. you find that your anxiety heightened significantly while you felt like you had to take a deep breath? I went on a run this morning and then did strength training. Only after that am I having a pretty bad day in terms of SOB. I am just so confused as to whether it is an underlying disease or truly a tick or some kind of psychosomatic event. Also, when my episodes get bad I notice a mild/moderate pain above my heart when I breathe in. I was checked out by a cardiologist and he said all was fine. I wonder if the constant deep breathing is exacerbating my lungs and causing irritation.

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I feel like my symptoms are almost the exact as yours. I am healthy. Workout an hour of cardio a day, all scans have come back normal. I am at a loss of how to make this SOB go away.

Liked by alureon

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@tonyagregg

@nycmom yes I just resisted the urge to take a deep breath and it eventually went away. Although it was not easy I kept reminding myself I was getting the oxygen I needed. Not sure if you have read my story, but this feeling of my need to take a deep breath started back in November when I got a treadmill and started running. I was 43 at the time. As far as running I felt good doing so it would be later on that evening that i would feel the need to take a deep breath. I did not feel stressed out or worried about anything, so i dont know why it started. After many test to make sure it was no major organ causing this, I kept talking it over with a doctor friend of mine and he was the one thst mention a tick. I am a mother of 3 and maybe subconsciously I was stressed, but didnt realize it. To be honest before I decided to resist the urge I would sometimes get worked up trying to get that deep satisfying breath and it would make it worse. I am still running and every now and then I feel the urge to sigh or breath deep and I resist it and dont even worry about it anymore. I hope this helps.

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This may sound strange but with resisting to take a deep breath, did you just breath shallow instead? How long would the feeling of needing a deep breath last before it went away?

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@kjconrad

This may sound strange but with resisting to take a deep breath, did you just breath shallow instead? How long would the feeling of needing a deep breath last before it went away?

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@kjconrad I know the question was directed to Tonya, but wanted to chime in; when I did the exact same thing when I first came down with the SOB, it took a couple of days of fighting the urge to take a deep breath for it to go away completely and for my breathing to "reset." I only breathed through my nose and when I couldn't resist any longer, I took a deep breath only through my nose and breathed shallowly throughout the day. I also did many breath holds throughout the day to build up CO2, which also helped.

Liked by kjconrad, alureon

REPLY
@rosemarya

@helpnywhereucan
Thank you for sharing your Victory!!
You have really shown the importance of being your own best advocate for your health. Yes, each one of us is unique. It sounds like you are committed to making and keeping changes in your own lifestyle after an ER visit. Was this an instant decision? Was it hard to adhere to? I invite you to take a look at the Healthy Living Discussion Group. I will be happy to met you there, or to help you locate a topic of interest. https://connect.mayoclinic.org/group/healthy-living/

How did you 'stumble' across Connect?

Jump to this post

it was almost an instant decision. Years ago I came down with a bunch of mysterious symptoms and had rounds and rounds of tests and spent a boatload of money in coinsurance and copays and the doctors never found a cause for it. I discovered I had all the symptoms of a magnesium deficiency. Changed my diet and started taking a supplement and have been supplementing magnesium ever since. When the episode of SOB happened I went to the ER and they didn't find anything out of the ordinary except a slightly low potassium level. I followed up with two doctors…they couldn't find a cause either. One gave me a script for Lorazapam which I read is addictive and people stated they had trouble getting off it it. I was confident it wasn't anxiety since I had dealt with that in the past and the magnesium totally took care of that. This felt completely different. I decided not to take the Lorazapem and started researching, piecing together what could be the cause and decided to go the diet and supplement route again.

When the SOB happened I had just started cutting back on carbs trying to lose a few pounds. I read that that can really mess with your electrolytes. So much so they make things like Keto electrolytes etc. Perhaps that was the trigger. It also could have been dehydration. I tend to get busy sometimes and not drink enough water. I also came down with a cold and that can cause dehydration as well. I had also recently cut back on salt and stopped eating my daily banana (potassium) because I wanted to lower my sugar intake. Sodium and potassium are cornerstones for regulating fluids in the body which is why we drink Gatorade when we're dehydrated. Potassium alkalizes the body and mine was low. Perhaps all those things set me up…and…Ta Da…shortness of breath. The mother of all mothers! Heavy exercisers end up in the ER with dehydration a lot because they lose sodium and potassium via heavy sweating.

To answer your question…for me it's not easy. I was already a pretty conscious eater but getting enough potassium rich foods was challenging. I make sure I have at least one glass of low sugar orange juice and a banana in my smoothie every day and eat lots of potatoes and sweet potatoes. Occasionally I drink coconut water which is rich in electrolytes. I eat a salad everyday and count my ounces of water. I also use green powders and try to stay away from anything I know that will create acidity in the body, ie lots of junk and fried foods etc. Other than that, I eat pretty regularly. When I think about SOB coming back, it helps me stay the course. It was time for me to tighten up my diet a little more anyway. I want to live a long and healthy life.

I came across this board while I was up one night pacing and gasping for air. For weeks I slept maybe two hours a night because I couldn't breathe. I just kept researching trying to find a solution which is why I'm leaving so much detail on this board (sorry for the length). Someone might recognize their own symptoms and find relief by the steps many of us have outlined.

Thanks Rosemary…I'll stop by that board when I get a chance. Good luck to you all.

Liked by alureon

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I'll also leave this link in case anyone suspects this might be their issue:

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/potassium-deficiency-symptoms#section11

A severe potassium deficiency can cause breathing difficulties. This is because potassium helps relay signals that stimulate the lungs to contract and expand.

When blood potassium levels are severely low, your lungs may not expand and contract properly. This results in shortness of breath.

Also, low blood potassium can make you short of breath, as it can cause the heart to beat abnormally. This means less blood is pumped from your heart to the rest of your body.

Blood delivers oxygen to the body, so an altered blood flow may cause shortness of breath.

Also, a severe potassium deficiency may stop the lungs from working, which is fatal.

SUMMARY
Potassium helps the lungs expand and contract, so potassium deficiency may result in shortness of breath. Also, a severe deficiency may stop the lungs from working, which is fatal.

Liked by cantbreath101

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Next week is my appointment to the lung doctor will keep everyone posted. I hope I can find out what is actually going on. I really hate feeling like this. Hope everyone is well.

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@gabrielm

@kjconrad I know the question was directed to Tonya, but wanted to chime in; when I did the exact same thing when I first came down with the SOB, it took a couple of days of fighting the urge to take a deep breath for it to go away completely and for my breathing to "reset." I only breathed through my nose and when I couldn't resist any longer, I took a deep breath only through my nose and breathed shallowly throughout the day. I also did many breath holds throughout the day to build up CO2, which also helped.

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How long did it stay away when you did it?

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@kjconrad

How long did it stay away when you did it?

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It came back after a year of it being normal. I think that was because I stopped exercising for a while. Exercise seems to maintain my breathing. So when it does go away for you, just keep up with weekly exercise- moderate running while nose breathing or weight lifting, without overdoing it.

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I’ve got the same thing!!! I really think it’s time we got all together and head up to MAYO TOGETHER! My daughter also has this. Many days we have it at the same time. One day we went in together and the doc said – Allergies, and to use Nose spray morning and night year round, as well as an allergy pill OTC and to see if that will help. But what we have noticed is we also get this from caffeine, including chocolate, as well as not getting enough sleep. So obviously that can’t be just pollen allergies and strange timing… When I asked about that I got the “panic attack” come back. I told him when this first started happening yes I panicked. But after going to the ER 5 times and realizing I wasn’t going to die, seeing a heart guy, lung guy, allergy guy, I’m well versed. I’ve tried the breathing and the breath holding can help a bit. I got frustrated with doctors and stopped trying because I was told to go to a councilor or breath into a bag, when I’d already done all of that and have a level head. I’d even entertained that and did their medicine for anxiety and nothing changed. Same with asthma meds which felt like made it worse. Anyway, if you have others like you, me and my daughter that you keep in touch with I would love to be added to the list. I can’t give up now that my daughter is going through this too 🙁 maybe with enough of us together we can figure this out.

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Air Hunger is what many of you are describing SOB is where you have trouble catching any breath at all to most doctors. If you say air hunger they know what you mean. Also one of the best things that has helped me an essential oil diffuser with eucalyptus. Inhaling that at times really helped. I often struggle for days at a time and can go months in between episodes, but sometimes it’s right back after a week or days. It seems like the diffuser can assist me in shortening the time I have the air hunger. I sit right next to it and breath it directly out from the diffuser as close as I can get.

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A long while back knew a pulmonary physician who used to teach "circular breathing", a technique used by musicians that played the large wind instruments. It increased lung volume and strength and he believed it helped alot of his respiratory patients. No data to back that up, but it did not harm and seemed to have a very positive impact on inhalation and exhalation strength.

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@cantbreath101

I’ve got the same thing!!! I really think it’s time we got all together and head up to MAYO TOGETHER! My daughter also has this. Many days we have it at the same time. One day we went in together and the doc said – Allergies, and to use Nose spray morning and night year round, as well as an allergy pill OTC and to see if that will help. But what we have noticed is we also get this from caffeine, including chocolate, as well as not getting enough sleep. So obviously that can’t be just pollen allergies and strange timing… When I asked about that I got the “panic attack” come back. I told him when this first started happening yes I panicked. But after going to the ER 5 times and realizing I wasn’t going to die, seeing a heart guy, lung guy, allergy guy, I’m well versed. I’ve tried the breathing and the breath holding can help a bit. I got frustrated with doctors and stopped trying because I was told to go to a councilor or breath into a bag, when I’d already done all of that and have a level head. I’d even entertained that and did their medicine for anxiety and nothing changed. Same with asthma meds which felt like made it worse. Anyway, if you have others like you, me and my daughter that you keep in touch with I would love to be added to the list. I can’t give up now that my daughter is going through this too 🙁 maybe with enough of us together we can figure this out.

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Thanks for giving us confirmation it's not in our heads. If it were, it wouldn't affect two people in the same house at the same time. Have you researched histamine intolerance? Could there possibly be any undetected mold in the house? We moved into a year old home and I found mold in the ice dispenser. Something told me to look in there when I was cleaning the fridge. Glad I did.

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