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?

So I went out of town on Spring Break and my shortness of breath disappeared for two days. I was then thinking it had to be allergies. Then on the third day it came back just mildly and stayed. I felt so amazing not having it. I just don’t know what could be causing it. I keep thinking allergies or a silent reflux. I need to get to my doctor to talk about the silent reflux. I just am seeking to find the cause so badly as I hate living like this.

@gabrielm

@chines118 I had the same thing happen when my SOB was especially severe. I had multiple panic attacks caused by the intense feeling of suffocation. My breathing exercises helped me a great deal but I haven't recovered 100%. I would quit caffeine (coffee, soda, etc.) and eat smaller meals throughout the day instead of large ones. Exercise, but keep it light – to what you can handle with your breathing – and try as much as possible to only breathe through your nose. Refuse the urge to take a deep breath when you possibly can, and breathe through your nose all the time. This helps you to not over breathe so much and may help regulate your breathing. It's difficult at first, but it helped a lot for me when I did it. I still only breathe through my nose and if I have to take a deep breath, it's just through my nose. I lift weights for exercise, I don't that much cardio (just walking whenever I can), and when I lift weights, I don't overdo it; I do as much as my breathing will allow which sometimes is a lot, other times not so much.

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Hello again @gabrielm and good morning. One thing that I found is that no matter what is causing the shortness of breath keeping a sensible diet and losing weight if necessary. One winter, shame on me, I gained almost 15lbs. I'm petite and I just couldn't handle the added pressure on my organs. I had digestive flare ups and my breathing was extremely labored. Losing weight really made a big difference with me. It's just a thought. What do you think?

I agree. Just need to get focused.

@kjconrad– Good morning. I agree that you need to see a doctor very soon. Acid from your stomach backs up and can ruin your throat and "pipes". There is no benefit in not going. Eating small meals, 5 0r 6 a day and cutting back on servings, not matter you age is extremely important.

Hi All, unfortunately still no solution from any doctors. Mine is now waiting to hear back from the chest team to see if they can suggest anything. In total I have seen 8 doctors, been to accident and emergency 5 times, been on Ibuprofen 400mg for pleurisy (not it), doxycycline for an infection (not it), inhaler for asthma (not it), omeprazole 20mg for stomach problem caused by ibuprofen (breathing symptoms did not improve). I have mentioned to all doctors silent reflux but they have all said since i don't have a sore throat or cough it is extremely unlikely. Anyone here diagnosed with silent reflux without cough? I have had an ECHO which was clear, multiple chest x-rays which were all clear, numerous blood tests… you guessed it… all clear. This has now been going on for 1.5months and is driving me nuts. Doctor is now thinking if there is no clear physical issue, then we might have to explore the possibility of it being Generalised Anxiety Disorder, which can cause breathing issues even if you do not feel anxious. This would honestly not be my preferred outcome, but I guess best to accept it in case it is and will make it easier to treat. Although I did try propranalol in the beginning (since they firstly diagnosed me with a panic attack) but I do not remember it helping. Will let you know what comes back from the chest people!! good luck everyone!

@katgts

Hi All, unfortunately still no solution from any doctors. Mine is now waiting to hear back from the chest team to see if they can suggest anything. In total I have seen 8 doctors, been to accident and emergency 5 times, been on Ibuprofen 400mg for pleurisy (not it), doxycycline for an infection (not it), inhaler for asthma (not it), omeprazole 20mg for stomach problem caused by ibuprofen (breathing symptoms did not improve). I have mentioned to all doctors silent reflux but they have all said since i don't have a sore throat or cough it is extremely unlikely. Anyone here diagnosed with silent reflux without cough? I have had an ECHO which was clear, multiple chest x-rays which were all clear, numerous blood tests… you guessed it… all clear. This has now been going on for 1.5months and is driving me nuts. Doctor is now thinking if there is no clear physical issue, then we might have to explore the possibility of it being Generalised Anxiety Disorder, which can cause breathing issues even if you do not feel anxious. This would honestly not be my preferred outcome, but I guess best to accept it in case it is and will make it easier to treat. Although I did try propranalol in the beginning (since they firstly diagnosed me with a panic attack) but I do not remember it helping. Will let you know what comes back from the chest people!! good luck everyone!

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To add to the lists of tests, I also had a lung function test which was fine

@merpreb

@kjconrad– Good morning. I agree that you need to see a doctor very soon. Acid from your stomach backs up and can ruin your throat and "pipes". There is no benefit in not going. Eating small meals, 5 0r 6 a day and cutting back on servings, not matter you age is extremely important.

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I have been to so many already. The ER doctor I saw in October told me if all the allergy medicine doesn’t work then to look at acid. He said to take some tums and that doesn’t help. Just ready to get rid of it.

@katgts

Hi All, unfortunately still no solution from any doctors. Mine is now waiting to hear back from the chest team to see if they can suggest anything. In total I have seen 8 doctors, been to accident and emergency 5 times, been on Ibuprofen 400mg for pleurisy (not it), doxycycline for an infection (not it), inhaler for asthma (not it), omeprazole 20mg for stomach problem caused by ibuprofen (breathing symptoms did not improve). I have mentioned to all doctors silent reflux but they have all said since i don't have a sore throat or cough it is extremely unlikely. Anyone here diagnosed with silent reflux without cough? I have had an ECHO which was clear, multiple chest x-rays which were all clear, numerous blood tests… you guessed it… all clear. This has now been going on for 1.5months and is driving me nuts. Doctor is now thinking if there is no clear physical issue, then we might have to explore the possibility of it being Generalised Anxiety Disorder, which can cause breathing issues even if you do not feel anxious. This would honestly not be my preferred outcome, but I guess best to accept it in case it is and will make it easier to treat. Although I did try propranalol in the beginning (since they firstly diagnosed me with a panic attack) but I do not remember it helping. Will let you know what comes back from the chest people!! good luck everyone!

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I never had a cough. I would only feel a lump at times in my throat and constant clearing like i had allergies. Never a cough

Howdy!I am 43 year old male and I am suffering from the same exact symptoms. It happens off and on but lately seemed like it happens more often. I do have GERD and it seems like nothing works. I tried PPI's, Prilosec, Omeprazole, and the only thing that does work some what is Zantac 150mg every 10 hours. My sister is my doctor and she specializes in obesity and diabetic medicine and many of her patients has the same thing. So she says the above method works best for them. Its such an annoying feeling and it drives me nuts at times. I cant work out hard all the time because it seems like I can only get a deep breath every 8th breath or so. So far I have had every heart test and passed them all with flying colors. I have recently been to the pulmonologist and I did all the PFT testing and I am waiting the results, but the tech said it looks great. It does seem if I dwell on it that I have it more often, but its hard not to dwell on it. I have an appointment with a GI doctor and I am going to ask if he can do an upper scope and see whats going on with my esophagus. When im sleeping at night I do at times will lay in a certain position, like on my side and when I take a deep breath its like I can hear like gurgling deep in my lungs, but not all the time. That kinda worries me but I have had CTA of the chest for PE's and its all normal and recently had chest xrays and they all normal. kinda running out of options :O

@jaspurc75

Howdy!I am 43 year old male and I am suffering from the same exact symptoms. It happens off and on but lately seemed like it happens more often. I do have GERD and it seems like nothing works. I tried PPI's, Prilosec, Omeprazole, and the only thing that does work some what is Zantac 150mg every 10 hours. My sister is my doctor and she specializes in obesity and diabetic medicine and many of her patients has the same thing. So she says the above method works best for them. Its such an annoying feeling and it drives me nuts at times. I cant work out hard all the time because it seems like I can only get a deep breath every 8th breath or so. So far I have had every heart test and passed them all with flying colors. I have recently been to the pulmonologist and I did all the PFT testing and I am waiting the results, but the tech said it looks great. It does seem if I dwell on it that I have it more often, but its hard not to dwell on it. I have an appointment with a GI doctor and I am going to ask if he can do an upper scope and see whats going on with my esophagus. When im sleeping at night I do at times will lay in a certain position, like on my side and when I take a deep breath its like I can hear like gurgling deep in my lungs, but not all the time. That kinda worries me but I have had CTA of the chest for PE's and its all normal and recently had chest xrays and they all normal. kinda running out of options :O

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@jaspurc75 Have you been tested for inhaled allergies? I have had similar issues with accumulating phlegm in my lungs because of allergies to my cats. After making changes with HEPA filters and preventing inhalation of dander, I am so much better. I didn't get sneezing and had been doing allergy shots for the cats, but it wasn't enough unless I minimized exposure.

@jaspurc75

Howdy!I am 43 year old male and I am suffering from the same exact symptoms. It happens off and on but lately seemed like it happens more often. I do have GERD and it seems like nothing works. I tried PPI's, Prilosec, Omeprazole, and the only thing that does work some what is Zantac 150mg every 10 hours. My sister is my doctor and she specializes in obesity and diabetic medicine and many of her patients has the same thing. So she says the above method works best for them. Its such an annoying feeling and it drives me nuts at times. I cant work out hard all the time because it seems like I can only get a deep breath every 8th breath or so. So far I have had every heart test and passed them all with flying colors. I have recently been to the pulmonologist and I did all the PFT testing and I am waiting the results, but the tech said it looks great. It does seem if I dwell on it that I have it more often, but its hard not to dwell on it. I have an appointment with a GI doctor and I am going to ask if he can do an upper scope and see whats going on with my esophagus. When im sleeping at night I do at times will lay in a certain position, like on my side and when I take a deep breath its like I can hear like gurgling deep in my lungs, but not all the time. That kinda worries me but I have had CTA of the chest for PE's and its all normal and recently had chest xrays and they all normal. kinda running out of options :O

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@jaspurc75 You're in good company my friend! Sorry that you're going through this. I know just how you feel, as do many others. Are you overweight? That might contribute to your shortness of breath, but I doubt losing weight will 'cure' it. If you've tried PPI's and those don't work, @tonyagregg did mention something she is taking called Protonix, 40mg and it seems to help when other forms of medication did not. Have your doc also check for a hiatal hernia. I'm curious if there's a link there, since that's what I have. GERD does seem to be very common with those of us with this SOB issue. Keep us updated.

An update to my diagnosis search, went in for sleep apnea results and turns out I’ve got a severe case of complex sleep apnea. Going on a CPAP trial in 2 weeks so I guess i’ll See if that’s the root of my weird breathing symptoms. Should definitely help with my lack of energy and focus

@rub3n

An update to my diagnosis search, went in for sleep apnea results and turns out I’ve got a severe case of complex sleep apnea. Going on a CPAP trial in 2 weeks so I guess i’ll See if that’s the root of my weird breathing symptoms. Should definitely help with my lack of energy and focus

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@rub3n Thanks a lot for updating us. I'm glad that you were able to find some answers. Let us know how the CPAP trial goes and if it helps!

@gabrielm an update. My thyroid ultrasound showed that i have a 7mm nodule on my thyroid and in appearance seems begin. My doctor has now referred me to an ENT being that the protonix has helped tremendously. She is not concerned about the nodule and doesn't feel like that is what is causing my SOB. I can tell you this…she wanted me to stop the protonix until i see my ENT because they may want to measure the acid in my stomach and they would not be able to get an accurate measurement taking the medication because it stops the stomach acid. I can say I am back to square one and it came back with a vengeance, so I am almost positive LPR is my problem. As soon as I know something from my ENT I will let you know.

I have had shortness of breath for over 7 months straight now. I have been to a pulmonologist and ENT, two cardiologist and my 2 primary care drs. I’ve had several test done and been to the ER around 15x. They all tell me I’m clear and after they couldn’t find anything they told me it appeared to be anxiety ( which I really wonder) I had a very peaceful, calm life before this. It all happened one early morning. I just woke up gasping for air and it never went away. How did this shortness of breath start for others ? Also has anyone found a solution ? One more thing recently I have been getting this head pressure every now and then.

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