Breathlessness (of unknown cause)

What is breathlessness of unknown cause?

There are many potential causes of breathlessness - also commonly referred to as shortness of breath or dyspnea. In some cases, before an individual has had this symptom assessed, the cause of breathlessness may be unknown.

Upon diagnosis, there are several causes which may be identified, which can range from not serious to severe, including; colds and flu, anxiety, asthma, acid reflux, lack of exercise, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, anaphylaxis, pregnancy, or a heart attack.

This wide range of potential causes makes it vital that breathlessness is assessed by a doctor as soon as possible.

Symptoms of breathless of unknown cause

Breathlessness is itself a symptom. There are many signs of breathlessness, and other symptoms which, depending on the cause, can accompany it. These include; very fast breathing; difficulty in catching your breath; noisy breathing; taking short, shallow breaths; wheezing; an increased pulse rate; blue or pale skin; chest pain; cold skin; 'clammy' skin; anxiety; panicky feelings; and the increased use of the muscles in the body when breathing.

Causes of breathless of unknown cause

As outlined above, there are many potential causes of breathlessness. There can be some cases in which it can be harder to ascertain a cause. When no underlying condition can be identified, it could be that the breathlessness is caused by:

Anxiety, which is capable of causing breathlessness, and can be accompanied by other symptoms such as; feeling nervous, a feeling of doom, an increased heart rate, tiredness, and digestive problems. In cases of extreme anxiety, severe symptoms such as choking, numbness, sweating, and a pounding heartbeat may also be experienced.

Lack of regular exercise may be a cause of breathlessness. This can cause an individual to be out of breath after exerting themselves physically.

Weak senior woman with walking stick waiting for help during breathlessness attack

Treatment options of breathlessness of unknown cause

In order for breathlessness to be treated effectively, it is important to know or have a good idea of what the cause could be.

Treatments can include; removal of an object in the throat which could be causing choking; medications for the various conditions which can cause breathlessness; inhalers, for asthma or different upper respiratory conditions; an epinephrine autoinjector (EpiPen), to treat anaphylaxis; antacids to treat acid reflux; building fitness, in the case of lack of exercise; and eating smaller meals, for COPD.

There is a range of breathing exercises and home treatments that can potentially help people to avoid breathlessness. They include; pursed lips breathing, to control shortness of breath and slow down breathing; sitting forward, to help to make breathing easier and relax the body; standing with a supported back, to relax the airways; sleeping with knees and head elevated by pillows, to help prevent the issue when trying to sleep; and using a fan, to cool and relax, helping to relieve breathlessness.

Have you experienced breathlessness, and are unsure of the cause? Dr Amit Patel is an expert lung consultant offering consultation and dysponea treatment. Feel free to call us with any questions or to book an appointment, on 0208 341 3422.