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Description of the Symptom

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This chapter describes pathology that may lead to dyspnea. Dyspnea or shortness of breath refers to the inability to feel adequately oxygenated. The individual may report a smothering feeling, difficulty taking a breath, chest tightness or constriction, and/or an increased effort to breathe. The term dyspnea is derived from the Latin dyspnoea, meaning "difficult breath."

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Special Concerns

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The therapist should be prepared to administer basic life support interventions or activate the emergency medical system should an individual present with dyspnea in association with any of the following:

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  • Loss of consciousness

  • Chest discomfort, presyncopal episodes, or palpitations

  • An oxygen saturation of <88%

  • Cyanosis of the lips or fingernail beds

  • Marked hypertension (ie, >220/110) or hypotension (ie, <90/60) in an individual who is typically normotensive

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CHAPTER PREVIEW: Conditions That May Lead to Dyspnea
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Overview of Dyspnea

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Dyspnea is a conscious awareness of one's own breathing (which is normally an unconscious event). The sensation may be described as a smothering feeling and the inability to get enough air. The individual often presents with labored breathing, a distressed anxious expression, dilated nostrils, a protrusion of the abdomen, and an expanded chest. Dyspnea is a common event that occurs in most individuals, even in the absence of pathology. It may be precipitated by vigorous ...

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