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Description of the Symptom

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."

Special Concerns

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:

  • 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

CHAPTER PREVIEW: Conditions That May Lead to Dyspnea

Overview of Dyspnea

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 ...

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