Shortness of Breath - Could It Be Caused by a Sleep Disorder?


In my personal experience, some patients with shortness of breath have obstructive sleep apnea. There are scales that can be used to rank the severity of shortness of breath. Severe shortness of breath can occur with walking 100 yards or less on the level or with activities of daily living. Some patients can even have shortness of breath with sitting. Patients can be short of breath while lying on the back which is called orthopnea.

Testing can include a history and physical, lab, pulmonary function testing, echocardiography, radiological studies, sleep studies, etc. Treatment options include treating the underlying cause.  Shortness of breath or dyspnea can occur for multiple reasons. Pulmonary disease may be a possible cause.  Disorders that cause interference with ventilation or breathing can cause shortness of breath. These include asthma, emphysema, bronchitis or lesions obstructing the trachea or bronchial tubes. Disorders that cause stiff lungs, such as interstitial fibrosis, lymphangitic tumor, or left heart failure can occur.

Disorders of the chest wall or lining of the lungs such as kyphoscoliosis, obesity, pregnancy, or thickened pleura can cause shortness of breath. ALS, Guillian Barre, muscular dystrophies, pleural effusion, pneumothorax ( collapsed lung), hyperinflation of the lungs in asthma or emphysema can cause a mechanical disadvantage or weakness causing shortness of breath. Renal failure, severe anemia, hemoglobinopathies, and cardiomyopathies can also cause shortness of breath. Pulmonary emboli/clots in the lungs and pulmonary hypertension can also cause shortness of breath.