Mysterious shortness of breath

Posted by Gabe, Volunteer Mentor @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?

@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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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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@gabrielm

@nycmom Back when the SOB first started back on 2012, I also did the best I could to resist taking a deep breath. This, combined with breathing exercises and only breathing through my nose, made the SOB go away for a good year. But for whatever reason it came back. So I think CO2 levels has something to do with it and for whatever reason, breathing gets out of sorts. Mine has been present consistently for a couple of years, but this time it persists no matter what I do, though I have been able to manage it to a tolerable level using breathing exercises. But I'm going to try to resist taking a deep breath as much as I can and maybe over time I'll get out of the habit of taking deep breaths even when I don't really need to.

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@gabrielm -thanks for your feedback. Do you feel that there is ever any chest tightness when you have episodes? Were you able to exercise through it? If anything, exercise makes mine better. I'm not sure if that is a good sign or not.

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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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Could be pleurisy if you are getting a sharp stabby pain.

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@helena4000

Could be pleurisy if you are getting a sharp stabby pain.

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Yes, that’s what they thought when I was in ER. But I have no cough or wheeze. Just SOB and occasional pain when I breathe in. I did have a sinus infection prior to this whole thing though. I wonder if there is a connection.

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@nycmom

@gabrielm -thanks for your feedback. Do you feel that there is ever any chest tightness when you have episodes? Were you able to exercise through it? If anything, exercise makes mine better. I'm not sure if that is a good sign or not.

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I haven't really felt chest tightness lately. I did feel the tightness back in 2013 when the SOB returned. But I haven't had that in a while. Previously, I was able to exercise just fine and not experience SOB. I would say when you exercise you are building up a lot of CO2 which is a good thing. I wouldn't go too crazy with the exercise. I would also try just breathing through your nose when you exercise and even when breathing normally throughout the day, to slowly build up CO2, which aids in getting more O2 (look up the Bohr effect).
And like @tonyagregg suggested, try resisting the urge to take a deep breath as much as possible. That's what made my SOB go away completely back in 2012.

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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.

REPLY
@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?

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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.

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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.

Jump to this post

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.

REPLY
@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.

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