Is Shortness of Breath a Lung Cancer Symptom?

Shortness of breath is a symptom of several heart and lung conditions, including lung cancer. Dyspnea, more commonly known as shortness of breath, is the feeling of not being able to catch your breath. Understand whether your dyspnea symptoms are caused by lung cancer and how to treat this worrisome sign.

Symptoms of Dyspnea

The primary symptom of dyspnea, or shortness of breath, is labored breathing. Some people experience dyspnea acutely, such as while laying down or during physical activity. Others experience shortness of breath and tiredness chronically. Many other symptoms occur alongside dyspnea such as:

  • Tachypnea – Abnormally rapid breathing
  • Cyanosis – Bluish color of lips, mouths, and fingers
  • Pallor – Pale skin
  • Nasal flaring – Widened nostrils
  • Chest retractions – Skin around the ribs sinking when breathing
  • Dry cough – Strained, unproductive coughs

What is the Most Common Cause of Shortness of Breath?

The three most common causes of labored breathing include blocked airways, fluid buildup, and low levels of oxygen in the blood. Shortness of breath that comes and goes for weeks is considered chronic whereas sudden dyspnea is labeled acute. No matter the classification, most cases of troubled breathing are related to heart or lung conditions.

Lung conditions that induce shortness of breath in patients include, but are not limited to:

  • Asthma
  • COPD
  • Interstitial lung disease
  • Pleural effusion (excessive lung fluid)
  • Pneumonia
  • Pneumothorax
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Mesothelioma
  • Asbestosis
  • Tuberculosis

Could Shortness of Breath Be Lung Cancer?

Dyspnea is a common symptom of lung cancer. Lung cancer causes shortness of breath as tumors and fluid develop within airways and lungs, putting pressure on the respiratory system. These variables prevent proper airflow, resulting in labored breathing and lung pain.
This symptom is also a sign of occupational lung disease. Occupational diseases often form from inorganic and organic dust. Particles in the air from this dust can enter a worker’s lungs and cause serious conditions. Examples of inorganic dust diseases from occupations include asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma caused by asbestos debris. Asbestos exposure from jobs can occur in construction, firefighting, and shipyard roles.

What Causes Fluid Around the Lungs?

Medical professionals classify excess fluids in the lungs as pulmonary edema. Symptoms of pulmonary edema include dyspnea, difficulty breathing, as well as the feeling of suffocating. Fluid collects around the lungs when people are exposed to certain toxins such as asbestos. Sudden pulmonary edema is likely life-threatening. If you experience these symptoms, you should seek immediate medical assistance.

How To Know If It’s Lung-Related

If you experience chronic labored breathing, you should seek medical attention. Knowing some basic breathing excercises could be helpful in the meantime. Doctors order many tests to diagnose the source of breathing issues. Lab tests, imaging studies, and grading dyspnea can all assist doctors in diagnosing patients.

There are several degrees of dyspnea based on the mMRC Dyspnea Scale. The system grades shortness of breath on the criteria:

  • 0 – Dyspnea only occurs during strenuous exercise
  • 1 – Dyspnea occurs when walking quickly or uphill
  • 2 – Patient walks much slower than someone else their age and must catch their breath often
  • 3 – Patient must catch their breath every few minutes of walking
  • 4 – Patient is unable to perform normal activities due to dyspnea

Treating Shortness of Breath

Those experiencing troubled breathing can reduce their symptoms by leading a healthy lifestyle. You can make simple lifestyle changes to lead a healthier life and improve your lung health.

  • Stop smoking
  • Avoid secondhand smoke
  • Stay hydrated
  • Practice breathing exercises
  • Stay well-rested
  • Eat a healthy diet

If these home remedies do not work, you may want to seek treatment from medical centers. Medical professionals treat dyspnea dependent on the underlying cause of the symptom. For example, if a patient experiences lung cancer shortness of breath, their doctor may prescribe medication or pulmonary rehabilitation.

Dyspnea Medication

Opioid medications such as morphine help to relax airways, improve breathing, and relieve anxiety. Therefore, medications such as Valium (diazepam) reduce the sensation of shortness of breath. Additionally, those with particular types of lung cancer might be prescribed a bronchodilator to improve breathing.

Pulmonary Rehabilitation

Breathing issues can occur after surgery or radiation therapy. If this occurs, medical professionals may recommend pulmonary rehabilitation to manage breathing. This form of treatment involves resistance exercises to build respiratory muscle strength. They may also recommend breathing exercises to increase oxygen levels.

Lung cancer and mesothelioma symptoms can appear unexpectedly. If you are displaying lung cancer and mesothelioma symptoms like shortness of breath, you should seek medical attention. Connect with a specialist today to assess your signs and symptoms.