Shortness of Breath

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Latest Edit: Hector 2013-05-29 (EDT)

Shortness of breath, or dyspnea, is a feeling of breathlessness that causes a change in breathing pattern. Dyspnea is a common symptom causing individuals to seek medical attention in emergency rooms. Causes of dyspnea can be benign and self limited, or can be serious and emergent.[1]

Shortness of Breath
Shortness breath.jpg

Shortness of Breath
Causes Exercise, Smoking, Fatigue, Infections
See Also Respiratory Conditions, Anemia, Asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), Congestive Heart Failure, Hyperventilation syndrome, Pneumonia
Books Books on Respiratory Conditions
Articles Articles on Respiratory Conditions

Related Systems and Conditions

Conditions associated with shortness of breath include:[1]

Non-emergent Conditions

Emergent Conditions

  • Anaphylaxis
  • Bacterial tracheitis
  • Botulism
  • Croup
  • Epiglottitis
  • Foreign Body Aspiration
  • Pneumothorax
  • Pulmonary Embolism
  • Status asthmaticus

Diagnostic Testing

Individuals presenting with dyspnea need to have underlying emergent causes ruled out quickly. After a thorough physical exam and health history, the following diagnostic testing may be utilized:[2]

Laboratory Tests

  • Laboratory tests to evaluate the cause of dyspnea include CBC, blood chemistry, pulse oximetry, and waveform capnography.

Imaging Studies

  • Imaging studies to evaluate dyspnea include chest radiograph, CT scan, pulmonary angiogram, MRI, ultrasound, bronchoscopy, and laryngoscopy.


Common Symptoms

Symptoms associated with dyspnea (other than dyspnea itself) include:[2]

  • Fever
  • Anxiety
  • Chest pain
  • Tripoding position
  • Clubbing of fingers
  • Stridor
  • Hemoptysis
  • Weakness

Naturopathic Treatments

It is important to identify the etiology of shortness of breath, and the root cause must be identified in order to address and treat the condition. Once emergent causes have been ruled out, or when shortness of breath is a chronic condition for a person the following naturopathic therapies may prove beneficial.

Home Care

Several strategies can be used in the home to alleviate symptoms of dyspnea, and help to increase quality of life. Energy conservation (ie pacing oneself during activity), positional breathing strategies, inspiratory muscle exercises, exercise training (to desensitize to dyspnea and build self confidence), and psychological coping strategies.[3]


Lifestyle recommendations include:

  • Exercise conditioning (under the advisement of a healthcare professional) with or without pulmonary rehabilitation has been shown to be effective in reducing the symptom of dyspnea in individuals with COPD.[3]
  • Sleep positioning may need to be altered to improve dyspnea in some underlying conditions. Sleep apnea is a common cause of night time dyspnea and may need to be addressed.[3]
  • Breathing strategies such as pursed lip breathing can be beneficial to slow breathing, reduce hyperinflation, and improve oxygen saturation. [4]

Naturopathic Therapies

As mentioned, dyspnea is a symptom of an underlying pathological process. In order to address dyspnea with naturopathic therapies, it is important to identify the root cause. For specific naturopathic therapies for dyspnea, see the conditions section for conditions that may cause dyspnea.


Reviewed by Iva Lloyd, BScH, RPE, ND [1]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Dains JE, Baumann LC, Scheibel (2007) Advanced Health Assessment and Clinical Diagnosis in Primary Care third ed Chap 11 Dyspnea Mosby
  2. 2.0 2.1 Braithwaite S, Perina D (2009) Marx: Rosen's Emergency Medicine 7th ed Chap 17 Dyspnea Mosby
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Schwartzstein RM, Adams L (2010) Mason: Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine 5th ed Part III Clinical Respiratory Medicine Chap 28 Dyspnea Saunders
  4. Puente-Maestu L, Stringer WW (2006) Hyperinflation and its management in COPD. Int J Chron Obstruct Pulmon Dis 1:381-400.