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Why Can't I Breath? Please Help!
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Why Can't I Breath? Please Help!

Ok, I am pretty much a healthy 21 year old average sized (not obese or overweight) female.  I have a moderate level of physical activity during the week and I have a pretty healthy diet.  I am not a smoker, and I only drink occasionally, and never in large portions. A few months ago I noticed that I was getting short of breath at very random times, like when I was just sitting or when I was eating.  I didn't pay much attention to it when it started, because a few deep breaths would usually take care of the problem.  Well about a month ago, I was driving home from a 9 hour road trip, and the breathing trouble started.  But this time, a few deep breaths DID NOT take care of the problem.  Now, when I say "shortness of breath", I am not talking about a constricted airway.  It just feels like no matter how hard I try to breath I just CAN'T fill my lung up with air! Like, I have to suck in as much air as humanly possible to "satisfy" the urge to breath. I decide to go to the emergency room.  When I went to the ER, they said my chest XRay looked completely normal, and that I was probably just having a panic attack.  I knew there was NO WAY I was having a panic attack, I had just gotten home from VACATION!  Anyway, I left the ER with a prescription for XANAX..  Later that morning, my breathing never let up and finally I just collapsed.  I was taken to another ER, where they discovered that my lung had collapsed for an unknown reason.  A few weeks after I got out of the hospital, my symptoms persisted.  I made an appointment with a pulminologist, and he came to the conclusion that it must be my esaphogus spasming.  He gave me a prescription for Prevacid, and sent me on my way.  Here we are a month later, and today my symptoms returned.  I called my doctor, he ordered a chest x ray (normal) and decided that I must be having an asthma attack!!  I have never in my life had asthma!! He took a blood sample to rule out a blood clot (normal) and sent me on my way!  PLEASE HELP ME!!
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You must be discouraged and a bit worried by this sequence of events.  Spontaneous collapse of a lung is quite common, especially among young adults.  It is called a pneumothorax and if small may not require any active intervention such as the insertion of a catheter or tube to suck out the air.  However, continued observation is crucial, for a small collapse can become a major collapse, either slowly or quickly.  You may want to request a copy of the official reading of the first X-ray that was declared to be “completely normal.”  Your lung collapse may have just begun at that time.  It is not clear what happened next with the 2nd ER visit.  You mention “getting out of the hospital”, so I assume you had a large lung collapse and were treated for it.

You state that your “symptoms persisted.”  If you are still short of breath and can’t take a deep breath, the lung may not have been fully expanded;  yet, when your doctor took an X-ray it was normal.

It is good that he took a blood sample to “rule out a blood clot”.  That was probably a D-dimer test.  You should call and find out the result of the test, but know that a negative test does not rule-out the diagnosis of a clot to your lung(s).    That is the most important diagnosis for which there should be a complete, definitive evaluation.

None of what you describe suggests either a panic attack or esophageal spasm.

You should ask your doctor what he believes to be happening.  If he cannot provide a satisfactory explanation, you should then request consultation with another pulmonologist.  Do not be concerned about hurting his or anyone else’s feelings.  You deserve to know what has happened and have it optimally treated.

Good luck
2 Comments
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I've had a similar experience - I'm a 34yr old mom of two boys 7yr and 3yr. old and have a pretty active lifestyle. I too am a non smoker and grew up in a household of nonsmokers. I drink maybe 3-4 times a year and am slightly overweight. Well, I was experiencing some wheezing and shortness of breath on mild exertion - like climbing up and down a flight of stairs, to add to the confusion I'd developed some abdominal distention. Then a few days later I started having pain on taking deep breaths..so I went to my PCP. My PCP attributed the symptoms to my abdominal distention and sent me home. By night time my pain had increased so I took 600mg of motrin and went to bed. Once the medication wore off the pain was back so I took some more medication and rested in an upright position which helped a lot. By the next afternoon I thought that since nothing major is wrong with I should go for an outing with my family as it'll help take my mind off the pain....we went on a two hour drive and by the time we reached our destination my pain was so unbearable that I couldn't breathe so we landed up in the ER. The ER doctors ran a no. of tests on me and took a chest X ray ( normal ) . My bld. test for a clot came back positive so I had to have a CAT scan for my lungs. Now they couldn't find any clot but did find atelactasis (partial lung collapse) and some consolidation in the left inferior lingular segment and atelactasis and pleural effusion over the left inferior lobe. The Dr. was very puzzled as to the cause but gave me some antibiotics and vicodin and sent me home with instructions to see my PCP. My PCP was even more puzzled so she ran some bld. tests to rule out pancreatitis and sent me to a Pulmonologist. Now the pulmonologist is of the opinion that I had walking pneumonia and has said that it'll take atleast 6 weeks for my atelactasis to improve and I'll remain short of breath for quite some time ....he didn't mention how long. I just wish he had given me some red flags to watch out for. The whole experience is so scary you really don't know when it will hit you or even for that matter ...was it really walking pneumonia?
Anyhow I wish you get some answers soon and wish you a speedy recovery.
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