Can Anxiety Cause Breathing Problems?

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People suffering from anxiety can have breathing difficulties. At first they may believe there is something physically wrong with them and visit a doctor, but when all the tests show there is nothing wrong it usually turns out that anxiety is the culprit. Although anxiety cannot cause any serious breathing problems, it can cause many uncomfortable breathing-related symptoms.

Chest Tightness

Chest tightness is a common symptom of anxiety that can affect breathing. While anxious, a person tightens most of the muscles in the body unconsciously. This can also include the chest muscles giving the sensation of chest tightness. When this happens the person may feel like they aren’t able to breathe right or that they can’t get a deep enough breath. Focusing on relaxing all the muscles in the body can help reduce this symptom.

Shortness of Breath

Anxiety can cause a number of psychosomatic symptoms including shortness of breath. People suffering from anxiety often feel short of breath like they can’t get enough air. Although the person feels like they are unable to breath, they are in fact able to and it is just the anxiety causing this sensation. The best way to counteract this is for the person to take slow, deep breaths reassuring themselves that they are in fact able to breathe.

Hyperventilation

People suffering from anxiety may also hyperventilate in a stressful situation. Usually this happens without the person realizing they are doing it. Hyperventilation can cause the person to pass out if they don’t stop. It is best treated by slowing breathing and taking deep breaths. The person should count to five while breathing in and count to five while breathing out, all the while reassuring themselves that they can handle the current situation.

Panic Attacks

Panic attacks can occur as a result of anxiety. Chest tightness, shortness of breath or hyperventilation can occur along with a number of other symptoms such as racing heart and chest pain. Although anxiety attacks may appear to be serious, they aren’t actually life-threatening. A person suffering from anxiety attacks should seek psychiatric help to develop a plan to prevent and treat anxiety attacks based on their specific situation. If it is determined that the person has an anxiety disorder medication may be prescribed.

Medications

Some people who are prescribed antianxiety medications may find that they still have difficulty breathing. If this is the case it is important that they see their doctor as some antianxiety medications have shortness of breath as a serious side effect. In addition difficulty breathing can also be a sign of an allergic reaction to the medication. Although it is possible that it is still the anxiety causing the problem, it is safest to rule out complications to medication.

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References

  • What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Anxiety, Phobias and Panic Attacks; Douglas Hunt M.D; 2005
  • Anxiety Disorders; Bruce M. Hyman Ph.D. and Cherry Pedrick, R.N; 2006
  • The AARP Guide to Pills; Maryanne Hochadel, PharmD, BCSP, Editor in Chief; 2006
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