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?

@davek

Same symptoms for me. My family doc, cardiologist and pulmonary docs all said it was anxiety Suggested I go on anti-depressants. It was the support and info I received from here that actually helped me. It was suggested here that i see an ENT. Doc. I ended up having a severe case of silent reflux that was so bad, it was closing up my throat, causing me difficulty takings deep breath. I was prescribed 2 antacids and after 6 weeks I am finally back to my old self. I am totally off coffee and other acid producing foods because of the reflux. It was hard to completely stop coffee but I am sleeping better than I have in years.

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Why is it called silent reflux? My doctor thought acid reflux may be playing a part of my sob as well.

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@davek

Same symptoms for me. My family doc, cardiologist and pulmonary docs all said it was anxiety Suggested I go on anti-depressants. It was the support and info I received from here that actually helped me. It was suggested here that i see an ENT. Doc. I ended up having a severe case of silent reflux that was so bad, it was closing up my throat, causing me difficulty takings deep breath. I was prescribed 2 antacids and after 6 weeks I am finally back to my old self. I am totally off coffee and other acid producing foods because of the reflux. It was hard to completely stop coffee but I am sleeping better than I have in years.

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Glad you have relief finally. What exactly were your symptoms like ?

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@nycmom

Glad you have relief finally. What exactly were your symptoms like ?

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I had a bad cold last October and could not catch my breath. After I recovered from the cold, still had trouble breathing. Could not take a deep breath and had bad anxiety occurred when I couldn’t breath.

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@davek

I had a bad cold last October and could not catch my breath. After I recovered from the cold, still had trouble breathing. Could not take a deep breath and had bad anxiety occurred when I couldn’t breath.

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Hi there, did the cold maybe not scar lungs or maybe start asthma? I had a terrible lung infection that at age 21 i the doctors said i had become asthmatic

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@davek

I had a bad cold last October and could not catch my breath. After I recovered from the cold, still had trouble breathing. Could not take a deep breath and had bad anxiety occurred when I couldn’t breath.

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The anxiety will always come with not being able to breathe i do hope u sort it out it can be very frustrating

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@davek

I had a bad cold last October and could not catch my breath. After I recovered from the cold, still had trouble breathing. Could not take a deep breath and had bad anxiety occurred when I couldn’t breath.

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That’s exactly what happened to me. I had a cold/sinus infection. When it went away shortness of breath started. I don’t have a cough or any other obvious or normal upper respiratory issues. I do have a constant sense of butterflies in my chest which ups the anxiety.
Did you say treating silent reflux eliminated your symptoms?

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@davek

Same symptoms for me. My family doc, cardiologist and pulmonary docs all said it was anxiety Suggested I go on anti-depressants. It was the support and info I received from here that actually helped me. It was suggested here that i see an ENT. Doc. I ended up having a severe case of silent reflux that was so bad, it was closing up my throat, causing me difficulty takings deep breath. I was prescribed 2 antacids and after 6 weeks I am finally back to my old self. I am totally off coffee and other acid producing foods because of the reflux. It was hard to completely stop coffee but I am sleeping better than I have in years.

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What kind of antacids did you try?

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@helena4000

Well, I definitely feel when I can't breathe it's pretty scary, and it creates a ton of anxiety. But because this started all of a sudden and I never have had these symptoms before, I don't think I've developed an overall health anxiety. Like you have every right to be anxious about what's going on, because right now you have no idea what's going on. All you get are answers that don't quite explain things, and because of that they can't treat the cause of the SOB.

I have not been exercising as before because with pericarditis and myocarditis they just tell you to rest, so my activity level is really low right now.

Your pain is all on the left side? Tricuspid and bicuspid valve leakage issues can cause shortness of breath because your heart's not functioning that great, but the doctors have to do a cardiac stress MRI to see that stuff. One thing I did find out is that my mom has valve leaks that are highly hereditary. Did either of your parents have any valve issues?

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I am not 100% sure on what silent reflux is but i changed my diet to cut out all gluten and wheat, that reallu helped subside pains i was getting in chest which would move. The anxiety is normal because who can handle all the unanswered questions u might have had and all the physical feelings. All i know was i was very much in the dark and always got told im anxious this seems to ne the answer from doctors these days. But changing my eating habits and taking it in my own hands i can tell u the anxiety was caused by no answers

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@cindyvag

I am not 100% sure on what silent reflux is but i changed my diet to cut out all gluten and wheat, that reallu helped subside pains i was getting in chest which would move. The anxiety is normal because who can handle all the unanswered questions u might have had and all the physical feelings. All i know was i was very much in the dark and always got told im anxious this seems to ne the answer from doctors these days. But changing my eating habits and taking it in my own hands i can tell u the anxiety was caused by no answers

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Are you doing much better now? Still having symptoms after changing diet?

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@nycmom

Are you doing much better now? Still having symptoms after changing diet?

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I actually was doing well upto 10th June, i was misdiagonosed with pharangitis but actually ended up on a ventilator with influenza a, pneumonoa and bronchitis for 10 days. Now my whole body out of whack cos they feed u through tube and when i got home i would eat a slice of bread as it was easy… so hubby now took me to go get all my food and i am hoping to get back on track

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I have the same problem for a few years already. All tests were good. I realised that my reflux and anxiety could be causing it. I stoped using gluten products, trying to not think about it and it helped a lot, sometimes it dissapears completly.

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@gabrielm

They have put me on paxil and risperdal for anxiety. Seems like the paxil has helped some…. Just starting the risperdal today.

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@aea1205

@gabrielm

They have put me on paxil and risperdal for anxiety. Seems like the paxil has helped some…. Just starting the risperdal today.

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Hey @aea1205. Glad the meds are helping! Keep us posted.

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Sorry it’s been so long since I’ve been on here, I’ve been really busy with school and work, but I’ve been to a gastroenterologist and had two endoscopies done in the mean time, and I’ve finally discovered with I think has been causing my shortness of breath. I was originally diagnosed with eosinophilic esophagitis after an initial endoscopy (which is basically an allergic inflammation of the esophagus similar to asthma), and after two months of omeprazole 40 mg twice per day and an allergen-free diet, I have been cleared of that condition (and my GERD has gotten a lot better). However, in the meantime I developed a fungal infection in my esophagus which caused the inflammation to continue, and I suspect that I might have another condition that constricts the esophagus, esophageal achalasia. Therefore, what I think is happening is I’m feeling tightness in my esophagus, mistaking that for my lungs/trachea, and then breathing more deeply to compensate. I go back to the doctor in a month so I’ll try to keep everyone updated more.

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@chines118

Sorry it’s been so long since I’ve been on here, I’ve been really busy with school and work, but I’ve been to a gastroenterologist and had two endoscopies done in the mean time, and I’ve finally discovered with I think has been causing my shortness of breath. I was originally diagnosed with eosinophilic esophagitis after an initial endoscopy (which is basically an allergic inflammation of the esophagus similar to asthma), and after two months of omeprazole 40 mg twice per day and an allergen-free diet, I have been cleared of that condition (and my GERD has gotten a lot better). However, in the meantime I developed a fungal infection in my esophagus which caused the inflammation to continue, and I suspect that I might have another condition that constricts the esophagus, esophageal achalasia. Therefore, what I think is happening is I’m feeling tightness in my esophagus, mistaking that for my lungs/trachea, and then breathing more deeply to compensate. I go back to the doctor in a month so I’ll try to keep everyone updated more.

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@chines118

I feel that would sound true. I am also feeling that way. I think over breathing is def part of this for a lot of us and we didn't know it. And panicing….That makes breathlessness worse. And an emergency….. We need to stay calm, nostril breathe, slow in and out to overcome overbrrathing from panic…. In also feel I have an underlying cause to this… Not heart or lungs. But throat, muscles, or gerd issues… Something.

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