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Avatar universal

Constant shortness of breath- Anxiety??

Hi, I am an 18 year old female. For the last 3 months I have had a constant shortness of breath that is very severe and it lasts all day and night. I have had a thorough physical examination and all tests came out clear. My doctor says it is anxiety and even though it is hard to beleive i have convinced myself that it is true. I was under a lot of stress with University and I have had trouble sleeping for years. I am waiting to see a psychiatrist but i am scared. I keep thinking what if medications do not work or what if I don't get better. The problem is very severe and I feel as though i can never breathe. I have been trying to ignore the problem by going out with friends, doing yoga but its always there and it feels terrible. I don't think i can just ignore it.

I am just wondering if anyone has ever been through this horrible experience, if it is truely anxiety, and if your condition has improved. I really just need any kind of hope or support at this point. Thanks a lot,

72 Responses
Avatar universal
Hi ssharm,

Your doctor has cleared you and from what you are saying, this constant shortness of breath is due to anxiety. You mention a lot of worrying, what if medications don't work etc, etc. When one has the classic racing thoughts what if, just notice how fast your breathing is , you will be surprised. Some people clench their teeth whilst worrying and shallow breathe and have a lot of shortness of breath. Hyperventilation syndrome. Breathing retraining ie to breath slower helps for some, this strategy helped me when I was in my early 30's but I seem to have a fair bit of this shortness of breath too. I have TMJ and a deviated septum which doesn't help.

In your case I have a feeling that a good therapist could teach you how to breath slower, something like 10-12 breaths per minute. while resting. Once the breathing is slower , you should feel more relaxed and can work through your issues better and your anxiety should be at a more manageable level.


Avatar universal
Thanks so much for your response! I am on a waiting list to see a psychologist and I am going to work really hard to get through this. I think i have made things much worse because this started at the end of my University year and i figured things would be back to normal by now. I started reading posts on google with people who have had this for years and it made me so much more worried and stressed. I will try some breathing exercises to see if they help,

Thanks again for your support.
480448 tn?1426948538
Welcome to our little happy, anxious home!  I'm glad you found your way here.  

What you are going thru is certainly awful, but the great news...is you've been given the "thumbs up" medically, which is good.  While no one really wants to have anxiety....we SURELY do not want the answer to be..."Why, yes, you have something physically wrong which is causing your symptoms."  ACK!

Shortness of breath is one of the more common symptoms of anxiety.  It's up there on the list.  If you search the health pages under "anxiety"...you will see a very lengthy laundry list of different symptoms people experience as a result of anxiety.  It's a BIG list, and it is constantly growing,  Everyone is unique in how they react to anxiety.

You are already addressing it, and are awaiting your appt...so that's great, I applaud you for that.  The sooner you get moving on it..the quicker your recovery will be.  And, with some time, therapy, possibly meds if you choose....recovery will come for you.  I wish it happened overnight, but unfortunately anxiety is one of those things that truly DOES take some time...patience is a virtue when dealing with it.  

"What iff-ing"...which is what you describe...how you are worrying about the meds, your schooling, etc...is also very common in anxiuety sufferers.  These are the things that treatment will help you to overcome.  You will learn coping techniques, breathing exercises, etc.  You will discuss at your eval how you are feeling and what different treatment options are out there...and which ones are for "you".  It's a process.

In the meantime...and I KNOW the wait is hard when you are feeling like you do...it sounds like you are doing some good things...the yoga...spending time with friends...finding this forum...those are all things that will help you.  If you have a sec..read thru the forum...searching the (anxiety) forum for "shortness of breath", and other similar keywords...and read thru some posts...when you realize just how many people have and do go thru this...you will feel like a weight has been lifted.  New anxiety issues is scary, and isolating.  A lot of us have also written journals about out own experiences (mine are related to panic disorder and agorpahobia).

Just know that you are SOOOO not alone in this.  Anxiety is much much more common than anyone realizes.  If you have a close friend or family member that you can confide in and share what you are going thru...that lifts a lot of the burden as well...there is no need to suffer in silence.  Stick around here as well...we all are forever learning from one another, and supporting each other.  It's like free therapy.  LOL

I'm sorry you are going thru this, but you are on the right path.

Take Care...and be sure to keep us updated on how you are doing!!
Avatar universal
Again i just want to thank you so much. Your words alone have helped me feel so much better. It is very hard because I felt like why is this happening to me but now i know there are so many people who go threw this. I am really happy i found this site because I have told family members and friends of what im going through but they don't seem to understand. My mom thinks i don't look sick so i am perfectly fine.

I am glad i can come on here and find some comfort. I will keep you updated and I am here if you need any support as well.
480448 tn?1426948538
It is not too uncommon to have family or friends that do not understand.  They WANT to help, but often don't know how.  When I was 1st dx'ed with panic disorder...my father...God love him...and his analytical engineering way of thinking just could NOT get WHY I couldn't just "snap out of it".  

Actually...lol...he STILL, decades later doesn't get it.  But, he has learned to be supportive in spite of understanding.  And, that works for me.  I understand that unless you've lived it...you'll never fully "get it"...and that's fine by me.  As long as I get the support and compassion I need (and that takes some time for some of our loved ones)....that was all I needed.

Again, I'm glad you found us.  We are many....lol.  Many....and despite an anxiety issue/disorder...alll totally normal people.  Well, okay....some of my loved ones may argue that point for me....but you get my drift.  :0)
Avatar universal
Here I go with lets rule out everything. Anxiety can produce asthma that would not normally come out. You might ask your doctor for a free sample inhaler to try next time this happens. An albuterol is good. Only try 1 puff and hold only 5-10 seconds not longer. See if that totally 100%+ makes you feel totally great. I say like super human. Thats what I felt like when I used my inhaler. As you can tell I have asthma. If it doesn't make you feel like that then it's probably not that. In fact if you don't have asthma it probably will do little to nothing for you. But don't try this with out talking to your doctor first. And don't buy one of those over the counter inhalers!!!! That's NOT albuterol. Those are eppi inhalers and will make your heart go zoooooom. What you want to try is albuterol given to you by your doctor. It works in about 5 minutes.

Next. This is very easy. Ever try Benedryl? It's an over the counter antihistamine. You might have some allergy that just is starting to show it self. I never had allergies to stuff and just started in the past few years. It happens. It can even be from dust. You can try something also like Claritin pills. But they will take a few hours to start working and takes a few days of repeated usage to know if it is working. Benedryl stops the allergies in just 10 minutes and wears off after about 6 hours. It does put some people to sleep so try only 1 gel pill or half the dosage. Like a childs dosage. Don't drive for a few hours it will put you to sleep. And it's recommended to ask your doctor or pharmacy before taking any medication even antihistamine.

It's probably just stress and anxiety but it's really easy to rule these other things out. The allergy is the easiest to rule out sometimes just by trying an antihistamine. Just be aware that most antihistamines will make you tired for a few hours. Like alcohol you can't drive, with the exception to claritin which is non drowsy. Not as strong, but non drowsy.

So if these don't help at least you can rule 2 more things out. :)
Avatar universal
I want to make clear when I said anxiety can produce asthma that was trigger an asthma reaction on a person who already has asthma. Will not cause asthma on a person who otherwise never had it. :)
Avatar universal
WHOA.. I noticed that your tag included "Pregnancy". This changes everything. Do not try any medication with out talking to a MD Doctor first. Different rules apply if pregnant. I don't know if pregnancy is present, just saw the tag. They can test for allergies with a blood test too so you won't need medication to find the results.

I don't know what your doctor tested your for, but Asthma and Allergy can be a question to ask.

But what you do describe can be anxiety and most people with anxiety describe the same feelings.
Avatar universal
hi it sounds like a classic case of anxiety. I had my first anxiety/panic attack when i was 18. There was no real reason for it and i didn't know what it was. All that happens is you worry about lots of things even small things like 'i forgot to dust the living room' ! I didn't do it consiously though but it happened alot at night then i experianced difficulty breathing which in turn causes you to panic more. I have learnt how to deal with it. If it starts take yourself out of the situation you are in, if you can't do that then doing something to focus your mind, while it is occupied it cant worry! Try breathing in through mouth and out your nose. That helps me or reading a magazine article, looking out the window, naming animals by the alphabet......try them out and see what helps. Good luck
xxxx Gem xxxx
Avatar universal
Thanks everyone! I looked through some of the other forums, it feels so much better knowing for sure that this is anxiety and the more educated i get, the better my mind feels about this issue. First i just want to say i am NOT pregnant. This was the first note i wrote and im not quite sure how to work this yet, i don't know how that happened haha.

Also i did have asthma when i was little, i didnt know anxiety could trigger that. However my doctor says my lungs sound very good. When this first started about 2 months ago it was soo severe that every minute i thought i was going to pass out, i used my ventalyne about 5 times, but it had no effect. It would get really bad at certain points of the day almost like a panic attack, but the shortness of breath was always there. Now it doesnt get worse or better, its always the same shortness of breath. It really scares me because i feel like my body has become immune to breathing like this and it will be like this forever.  

Also i am going to go in and get tested for allergies soon just to be sure, but i am pretty sure its anxiety.

Thanks everyonee, take care :)

518398 tn?1211788965
i get this alots of times.and i have anxiety and ocd.
Avatar universal
I can suggest you a altenative therapy called "Pranayam" from India which is practiced by Yogis.

There are 4 breathing exercises that you have to do and spend approximately 20 minutes in total. It will help you immensely and rather cure you of your present problems.

If it interests you write to me at ***@**** and I will forward details and the links.

Best wishes
A Dasgupta
480448 tn?1426948538
The MOST important thing to remember is that you ARE being followed by your doctor...and so far...most of the basical physical causes have been ruled out.  I'm sure your doc will order any and all appropriate tests to make sure all bases are covered.  I'm just glad that you are ready to tackle the anxiety...that is great.

Keep us updated on how you are doing okay?
366811 tn?1217422672
That breathless thing can be a real bummer; trust me, I know. I can't really add to the good advice you've received here, especially from nursegirl who is blessed with anxiety and medical knowledge and field experience -three for the price of one, as it were.

But let's just say, for the sake of argument (I love arguments, don't you? Shut up, I'm talking) that there IS something else -maybe that asthma thing, or maybe the alarm clock you swallowed when you were a kid. There is absolutely NO reason not to let your doctor know -as you probably have done- that you really, really, wonder if that could be at least a contributor. You're not going to hurt the doc's feelings, after all.

At the same time, let's also get down to brass tacks, here. Whether or not there is some independent issue with respect to your short breath thing, it is undeniable that the breathing problem is certainly causing anxiety, which gets into the feed-back loop to your brain and tends to worsen the situation. Anxiety is ALL ABOUT the brain; by the same token that you are getting the shortness of breath sensation FROM your noodle, it can also make that sensation go away. And psychology is simply a method for you brain to talk to itself.

All of this is, so far, within the realm of medical oversight, medically informed opinion. And therefore, if I were you (and, believe me, I WAS you) I would be careful about experimenting with over the counter medications and such like to "see what happens," unless your doc says, "What the heck, give it a whirl."

So, go with the program you've got and hang out with us here on the forum. By all means, please keep us up to date on progress. Oh -there WILL be progress. I've got a bundle of PM's from people here who have all said, "I can't believe how much BETTER I feel!" There's something about keeping company with folks who "get it." You'll see.
518398 tn?1211788965
me and my wife both get the same thing a lots and i have had anxiety for 20 years i am on ativan ask about ristoril to help you sleep.
Avatar universal
I just want to thank everyone for your responses. I am accepting the fact that this is anxiety, but this is just really really hard. My doctor says to just relax but i know that can't be it. I've been doing yoga, ive tried to just full out not think about it. But it makes me feel worse because I try to carry on with life like everythings perfect but its not. I feel like i am living in 24/7 torture with my breathing. There is nothing i can do to escape it. I am taking ativan presribed by my doctor at night and it makes me drowsy so i can sleep a little better, but the breathing is still the same. I have always been one to read and learn about things in order to believe them. I just need to know how anxiety medication will make my breathing better? I just feel like no one is being realistic with me, is there any possibility that this can last the rest of my life. That is my biggest worry, I am not afraid of dying from this because i know thats not possible.

I am sorry i keep asking questions, but i really need your helpful opinions as i am still waiting to see a psychiatrist. I appreciate everyone's efforts to help me out.
495384 tn?1212176769
Hi there,

I just wanted to say that what you are describing with the breathing thing is EXACTLY what I am going through. I feel smothered, and in turn start to panic because it is so uncomfortable. I have no wheezing or outward signs of a breathing problem, and like you, my family members all say that I look perfectly ok too. I have days where I kind of forget about it, and then as soon as I think about my breathing--BAM it's back again.

Xanax is working for me right now. I take .5 mg when it's really bad and then I feel like I can breathe again. I try to break it in half if the feeling is not too severe. (sometimes I panic about the meds too!)

Anyways, just know that you are not alone and this is anxiety. I came here just a few days ago posting about the same thing--help, can't breathe! Turns out that there are a lot of great people here suffering from these same feelings. We can learn a lot here from each other. I agree with JSGeare in that NurseGirl has a lot of good insight. Just post, post, post if you need support. Someone will be online to reach out a helping hand:)

Avatar universal
Thanks alot..Its good to know others have the same problem as me..and that Im not the only one with a new disease! lol. It also feels good to know that Xanax is helping you, i see my Psychiatrist on June 16th ..& i literally can't wait to start treatment.

I finally had like one good day a couple of days ago but then i told myself i was better, and when it got bad again the next day, it made me feel worse all over again.

But keep in touch, let me know how you are doing...i hope you feel better
Avatar universal
sorry to hear you are going through this but glad to hear I am not alone.  I am going through the same situation where I am gasping for air 24/7 and i honestly can't deal with it anymore.  I have been tested for everything and come out fine.  I take .5MG of xanax and it does nothing, they switched my to klonopin 1mg and I still can't breath.  I just started Paxil about 5 days a go so I am hoping this eventually stops.  I try all the breathing techniques and nothing.  I know its anxiety as there are times when i get focused on something and realize i am not gasping for air.  I just feel like there is no hope in site and I truly can't take this much longer it has been the worst experience of my life.  i don't want to keep shoving pills down my throat in hopes of eventually breathing.  Good luck with everything
Avatar universal
Gosh it feels good to not be alone on this one. I'm a reporter and a freelance writer, so stress was something I had grown used to when this problem surfaced.
A few months ago, I was out covering something extremely vanilla (like an airforce appreciation banquet) when all of a sudden I couldn't breathe and felt like my heart was pumping out of my chest. Even though I'm only 27, I honestly thought I was going to have a heart attack.
I called my wife, who picked me up and took me to the doctor's office. They ran all kinds of tests, and I was convinced they were going to discover my lungs and heart had imploded due to my lifestyle (I've been a smoker since I was 17).
Everything came out okay, in fact, better than okay. All my insides were working great, and the doc told me I probably had an anxiety disorder.
"Ridiculous," I told him. "Anxiety is something people use as an excuse."
He then asked me to tell him what was going on in my life, and I replied I was working 12 hour days six days a week, about to get married, my fiance was pregnant, my mother had cancer, etc. etc. etc.
He then put me on a prescription for Paxil, and although I was at first dubious, I have not since looked back.
I stupidly forgot to get my prescription refilled last month ("I'm cured," I told myself), and now all the same problems are rearing their collective heads.
Trust science, take some drugs and don't worry about becoming a zombie. For people who need them they don't take anything other than the crushing nervousness away and help the person you really are come back from the abyss.
956150 tn?1248275215
As long as I don't have the shortness of breath and the constant fear of not getting enough air, I will ALWAYS go the medication route.

Avatar universal
I have this problem too and was puzzled about the anxiety diagnosis...in reality, its not so much anxiety as it is a for of OCD. We have become aware of our breathing and thinking about it put it into all kinds of odd patterns. Harmless but miserable to say the least.
It took six months for me to come to the grip that this is not medical but something in my " head" The good thing is, I can make it go away, and IT WILL GO AWAY. I have been told by those that had it, those that diagnose it, those that treat it, etc......and once it goes away, it doesnt come back.

The question to me is...how ? Am I supposed to stop thinking about this when it consumes my every waking moment ???

My therapist wnats me to have w consult with a psychiatrist to prescribe the right meds, which Im weary of but I know if I want this to go away, I have to trust someone, and I trust her completely.

This is the first day in six months I did nto cry(yet) Its still there, but I just laugh at it and tell it its days, or weeks, or months are numbered because my mind is stronger and I will win.

Diversion, much diversion is the key and of course, something else to "obsess" about.

Dont panic, take your magnesium/calcium and B vitamins and just relax.
What doesnt kill us makes us stronger and believe me Ive been "this close' to the edge with this and will not let it get me down.

Avatar universal
I'm glad to read that I am not alone.  I have had severe shortness of breath for the last 10 years.  On the outside I look fine so no one understands.  But I never have air.  I always feel like I am breathing out and getting very little in.  I know that it's gotten so bad that I rarely deep breathe and I probably more so chest breathe.  Being short of breathe makes me exhausted and I always look and feel completely terrible.  The worst part about this.....when it is bad which is usually most of the time...I find myself not really able to talk without feeling like I have to continuously stop and take a deep breath.  I literally have to stop talking or else I think I will pass out.  I noticed when this started that I couldn't sing anymore (like say in your car or something) I don't have enough air to hold a note.  In addition...I can barely read a book to my kids.  I cannot get enough air and I constantly have to stop and breathe and then the more I do that...the worse it gets and I can't talk at all.  Luckily I am writing right now...cause I wouldn't be able to even get enough air to have a converstation right now.  The interesting part about this is....if I was to be hanging with friends and having a bunch of glasses of wine...I would be able to breathe much better.  I can even sing on the top of my lungs.  I am not an alcholoic by any stretch but I guess it has a way of taking away the anxiety.  But sometimes that doesn't even help.  I have been tested awhile back for everything and I was o.k.....maybe I should go again?  Xanax use to work better for me...but not so much anymore.  Plus...it puts me right to sleep.  My doc prescribed paxil to me but I am scared to take it.  So...my main questions are these.....has Paxil helped anyone with this condition and has anyone had a similar experience with shortness of breath and how it affected talking and made them extermely tired and breathless?  Since this has been going on for over 10 years...I feel like this is a new way that my body has learned to breathe and it won't ever change.  It's horrible.  Thanks for your help.   Beth
beth I feel the same last 20 years always shortnes of breath it is killing me I just hope it is anxiety?
Avatar universal
Omg thank you for this post!!! I feel exactly what you feel...I wake up in the morning and have shortness of breath from morning to sleep I hate it...but I am on medication now and it seems to help a little bit...
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