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Psychogenic Breathlessness - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment of It!

Written and reviewed by
Dr. Vikas Mittal 89% (14 ratings)
MBBS, MD - Pulmonary Medicine, MD - Tuberculosis & Respiratory Diseases / Pulmonary Medicine
Pulmonologist, Delhi  •  18 years experience
Psychogenic Breathlessness - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment of It!

Psychogenic breathlessness or pseudo-dyspnea is a condition where the patient suffers from shortness of breath time to time. This disease is often confused with a similar breathing disorder called Chronic Dyspnea. While there are a lot of factors involved in chronic dyspnea, like allergens and pulmonary diseases, psychogenic breathlessness has more to do with the current state of mind.

One of the most challenging factors is the diagnosis and differentiation between both conditions. Sometimes, the psychogenic breathlessness is so concentrated that there is no way to differentiate between the two.

Procedure of Diagnosis of Psychogenic Breathlessness:

Here are the steps that doctors typically follow to diagnose Psychogenic Breathlessness

  • To differentiate between the two diseases (Chronic Dyspnea and Psychogenic Breathlessness), the doctor will ask the patient to try breathing harder. A patient with chronic dyspnea will find it even harder to take a breath when he or she tries to. However, a person with psychogenic dyspnea will show improved conditions when they try to breathe harder

  • A thorough examination of the chest will be done

  • Blood tests and lung function test (spirometry) will also be conducted to rule out pulmonary diseases

Causes of Chronic dyspnea:

Allergens causing allergic bronchitis (also known as asthma) is the main reason behind Chronic Dyspnea. Other common causes of the true or chronic dyspnea are heart diseases, COPD which occurs because of smoking. Then there are rare disorders like ILD (sarcoidosis), neuromuscular diseases, infections, anemia, obesity/deconditioning.

Causes of Psychogenic dyspnea or psychogenic breathlessness:

  • Acid reflux: Acid reflux can cause certain sensation on the inner lining of the esophagus (esophagitis). The esophagus has several nerve endings on the inner linings, when the acidic reflux touches these nerve endings, a temporary breathlessness occurs.

  • Anxiety: People with anxiety can also develop breathlessness. Though exercises help for a short period of time, a patient needs to see a psychiatrist for this condition.

  • Panic Attacks: These are also a cause for breathlessness. The temporary feeling of choking is common in people who experience panic attacks.

Treatment:

  • Medication: Medicine for acidity is prescribed to patients having Pseudo-Dyspnea, due to acid reflux.

  • Anxiety pills and Talking therapy: People suffering from anxiety are recommended to see a psychiatrist for better evaluation of their problem. Medications (anxiety pills) prescribed by the psychaitrist may help in controlling the breathing pattern in a person. Psychological therapies (Talking therapy) have been effective for people suffering from breathlessness due to anxiety.

  • Placebo: If the problem remains unsolved and unknown, sometimes doctor prescribes placebo medication, for example sweetened aerosol. Doctors believe that if the patient thinks he/she is taking a real medication, his/her condition can be controlled by eluding the mind.

It is important to remember that Psychogenic Breathlessness is as real as chronic breathlessness and patient doesn’t pretend to have this condition. When the first symptoms of it start appearing, a specialist doctor (pulmonologist) should be consulted who after confirming the diagnosis of psychogenic breathlessness, may refer you to a psychiatrist or psychologist for further treatment.

In case you have a concern or query you can always consult a specialist & get answers to your questions!
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