Uncommon Causes of Shortness of Breath (SOB)

A variety of illness, either acute or chronic, can cause SOB as the cardinal symptom leading patients to seek care, though other symptoms like Chest Pain usually predominate.ย  Most of those that affect the lung can be seen on Chest X-ray, such as:

  • Pneumothorax (punctured lung) [almost always acute]
  • Pleural Effusion (fluid in the lungโ€™s lining, due to a variety of causes)
  • Lung Cancer (acute SOB if thereโ€™s hemorrhage)
  • Acute Chest Syndrome in persons with known Sickle Cell Disease
  • Vaping marijuana: Acute lung failure (a mini-epidemic several years ago claimed many young lives)

Lung conditions not often seen by Chest X-ray include:

A variety of neurological diseases can paralyze the respiratory muscles we need to breathe. Some may be acute, like Guillain-Barre Syndrome, Myasthenia Gravis, viral encephalitis, and others. Chronic ones like Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis get diagnosed when patients seek care for muscle weakness, long before they develop SOB.

Diabetic ketoacidosis causes rapid, shallow breathing, although patients may not exactly sense SOB.  Carbon monoxide and other poisonings kill by depriving the blood of oxygen, but probably begin with other symptoms like headache, confusion, nausea / vomiting, and the like. 

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