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Shortness of Breath

Facial rash is a common symptom of lupus

Shortness of Breath and Breathing Pain

Shortness of breath is common among people with lupus. It is characterized by the feeling that you can't get enough air in your lungs or you can't catch your breath.

There are many potential causes of shortness of breath. One cause of shortness of breath is pleuritis which is inflammation of the tissue lining around the lungs. Build-up of fluid and inflammation around the heart is known as a pericardial effusion and can also result in shortness of breath or chest pain. Shortness of breath could also be a sign of a blood clot, though this is rare. Pulmonary emboli is a condition that refers to a blood clot in the arteries of the lungs. Blood clots prevent blood from reaching the lungs, causing lung tissue to die and decreasing oxygen flow to your lungs. Pain with deep breaths, high heart rate, and low blood pressure can also indicate the presence of a blood clot and requires quick medical attention in an ER to treat.

There may be other causes of shortness of breath that are not related to lupus, such as allergies, bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma, low physical fitness or inhaled marijuana or tobacco use.

People with lupus frequently experience high levels of stress, anxiety, and fatigue, which can also cause trouble breathing. If you and your doctor have ruled out other physical causes described above, your shortness of breath may be psychosomatic. It is important to remember that in situations of panic, these feelings do not represent a physical danger. Rather, your body is producing elevated levels of stress hormones that trigger your "fight or flight" response, which can make you feel like you cannot breathe.

Seeing a Doctor for Shortness of Breath

These symptoms may represent a more serious cause of shortness of breath and indicate a need for immediate medical attention:

  • Swelling in your feet and ankles
  • Trouble breathing while lying down
  • Chest pain
  • Wheezing
  • Blue or pale skin, nail beds, or lips
  • Trouble speaking, dizziness, or weakness

A visit to the doctor for shortness of breath may include a physical exam and blood work. Additionally, your doctor may suggest you get some imaging scans done. This could include a CT scan of your lungs, a chest X-Ray, or a pulmonary function test to examine the effectiveness of your lungs. Your doctor may also use a pulse oximeter to measure oxygen in red blood cells.

Self-Care for Shortness of Breath

If you are experiencing shortness of breath related to feelings of stress or anxiety, you may try the following self-care strategies:

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