Friday, July 22, 2011

Doctor, I have shortness of breath. Can it be due to Anxiety?

From a Doctor's perspective, shortness of breath can be due to a number of reasons.  When you have shortness of breath, it can mean that the body is not getting enough oxygenation.  So what are the body systems that can affect oxygenation?
  1. The first obvious one to mention is the respiratory system (ie the lungs).  So if you have asthma or emphysema for example, then this can cause shortness of breath
  2. The blood system for carrying the oxygen around the body.  So if you are anaemic or iron deficient, then this can cause shortness of breath.
  3. The heart, which is responsible for pumping the blood to the lungs to load the oxygen onto the red blood cells and then carrying it throughout the body.  So if you have cardiac failure, then this can cause shortness of breath.
Now, once we have ruled out these causes, then anxiety can be firmly considered if the whole history is consistent with an anxiety disorder.  Generally, if the shortness of breath is due to a lung, heart or blood problem, then it usually gets worse with exercise whereas the reverse is generally true for anxiety.

Make sure you see your Doctor to have it properly assessed.

As a general rule, a firm diagnosis of anxiety, depression or any mental illness is only made once the physical causes are ruled out.


Dr Vin
Family Doctor Australia

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