Breathing Problems

Identifying Breathing Problems

Whether it’s related to another health issue, lack of physical exercise, normal aging or something else, you need to see a doctor if you’re experiencing unexplained shortness of breath, also called dyspnea. Our pulmonologists and heart specialists at University Hospitals have the experience and expertise to evaluate your heart and lung function to determine the cause of any breathing problems. We work together through a focused approach - in partnership with your primary care physician - to manage your breathing issues on a daily basis.

Together, we diagnose and treat breathing problems to restore patients back to normal breathing patterns for improved quality of life.

Team Approach to Diagnostics and Treatment

We’re all born with more lung function than we need. When we inhale, we provide oxygen to the blood and the rest of the body. When we exhale, we release carbon dioxide from our body. Both functions are necessary for healthy living.

But other health conditions or just normal aging can significantly affect our ability to breathe easily. The aging process may affect the size and shape of the bones in the rib cage and/or weaken the respiratory muscles, called the diaphragm – making it difficult to breathe.

Specialists in the Dyspnea Center at University Hospitals process advanced diagnostic tests to identify the underlying cause of your shortness of breath. They don’t just treat the dyspnea symptoms; they look for the root cause and treat each patient accordingly, based on their unique situation. Patients who experience difficulty breathing may have one of these conditions:

  • Pulmonary edema and congestive heart failure: These conditions make it difficult for people to breathe when lying down, or to finish complete sentences without taking a breath.
  • Cancer drugs and radiation treatments to the chest: These treatments can cause inflammation or scarring to the lungs, triggering trouble breathing.
  • Chronic lung conditions: Including chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), asthma, pulmonary hypertension or pulmonary embolism, these conditions interfere with normal breathing.
  • Lung cancer or tumors near the lungs: Lung tumors may block airflow to the lungs, making it difficult to breathe.
  • Lifestyle choices: Including smoking, obesity and lack of exercise are all lifestyle choices that may trigger breathlessness.
  • Anxiety: Individuals who suffer from panic attacks may struggle to breathe normally.

Once our team identifies the cause of your breathing issues, our pulmonary specialists work with a range of other specialists at UH - from our heart experts to our cancer doctors - to develop the best treatment plan for your breathing issues.

When to Seek Emergency Care at University Hospitals

Sometimes shortness of breath is a symptom of a critical condition. Seek care from our emergency services or call 911 if you or a loved one experience any of the following:

  • Sudden chest pain
  • Trauma to the chest or lungs
  • Anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction
  • Trouble breathing accompanied by dizziness, confusion and nausea

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