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Difficulty Breathing: Caused by Low Body O2

Man keeps an arm on his chest with breathing difficultyDifficulty breathing (aka dyspnea or shortness of breath) is labored breathing accompanied by an unpleasant awareness of one's own breathing. Difficulty in breathing is commonly present in people with progressive heart disease, cystic fibrosis, HIV-AIDS, cancer, COPD, asthma, emphysema, pregnancy and many other conditions. Common triggers for difficulty breathing are: anxiety, exertion, sleep, and eating or meals.

What causes breathing difficulty?

Minute ventilation rates (chronic diseases)

Condition Minute
Number of
All references or
click below for abstracts
Normal breathing 6 l/min - Medical textbooks
Healthy Subjects 6-7 l/min >400 Results of 14 studies
COPD 14 (+-2) l/min 12 Palange et al, 2001
COPD 12 (+-2) l/min 10 Sinderby et al, 2001
COPD 14 l/min 3 Stulbarg et al, 2001
Cancer 12 (+-2) l/min 40 Travers et al, 2008
Heart disease 15 (+-4) l/min 22 Dimopoulou et al, 2001
Heart disease 16 (+-2) l/min 11 Johnson et al, 2000
Heart disease 12 (+-3) l/min 132 Fanfulla et al, 1998
Heart disease 15 (+-4) l/min 55 Clark et al, 1997
Heart disease 13 (+-4) l/min 15 Banning et al, 1995
Heart disease 15 (+-4) l/min 88 Clark et al, 1995
Heart disease  14 (+-2) l/min 30 Buller et al, 1990
Heart disease 16 (+-6) l/min 20 Elborn et al, 1990
Pulm hypertension 12 (+-2) l/min 11 D'Alonzo et al, 1987
Asthma 13 (+-2) l/min 16 Chalupa et al, 2004
Asthma 15 l/min 8 Johnson et al, 1995
Asthma 14 (+-6) l/min 39 Bowler et al, 1998
Asthma 13 (+-4) l/min 17 Kassabian et al, 1982
Asthma 12 l/min 101 McFadden, Lyons, 1968
Cystic fibrosis 15 L/min 15 Fauroux et al, 2006
Cystic fibrosis 10 L/min 11 Browning et al, 1990
Cystic fibrosis* 10 L/min 10 Ward et al, 1999
CF and diabetes* 10 L/min 7 Ward et al, 1999
Cystic fibrosis 16 L/min 7 Dodd et al, 2006
Cystic fibrosis 18 L/min 9 McKone et al, 2005
Cystic fibrosis* 13 (+-2) l/min 10 Bell et al, 1996
Cystic fibrosis 11-14 l/min 6 Tepper et al, 1983
Diabetes 12-17 l/min 26 Bottini et al, 2003
Diabetes 15 (+-2) l/min 45 Tantucci et al, 2001
Diabetes 12 (+-2) l/min 8 Mancini et al, 1999
Diabetes 10-20 l/min 28 Tantucci et al, 1997
Diabetes 13 (+-2) l/min 20 Tantucci et al, 1996
Sleep apnea 15 (+-3) l/min 20 Radwan et al, 2001
Liver cirrhosis 11-18 l/min 24 Epstein et al, 1998
Hyperthyroidism 15 (+-1) l/min 42 Kahaly, 1998

The Homepage of this site has an extended Table that provides many more health conditions (such as heart disease, diabetes, etc.) with the same general observation: too heavy breathing at rest. The cause of difficulty breathing is hyperventilation or alveolar hypocapnia (lack of CO2 in the lungs). The normal breathing pattern at rest is imperceptible, inaudible and unnoticeable to others. It is small in tidal volume (500 ml for a 70-kg man), slow (12 breaths/min), light (6 L/min for minute ventilation), strictly nasal and diaphragmatic. Hyperventilation leads to alveolar hypocapnia and disrupts normal oxygen delivery due to:
- 1) reduced arterial oxygenation caused by lung pathologies (COPD, emphysema, cystic fibrosis, lung cancer, and so forth) or
- 2) arterial hypocapnia, leading to vasoconstriction and a suppressed Bohr effect - both of which reduce oxygen delivery to the tissues.

Shortness of breath (difficulties breathing) and hypocapnia

The factors that dramatically increase the work of breathing are constriction of airways due to alveolar hypocapnia, chest breathing (due to spasmodic diaphragm), obstruction of airways due to mucus and chronic inflammation with possible increase in blood viscosity. Mouth breathing worsens difficulty breathing due to reduction in NO (nitric oxide) absorption and reduced alveolar CO2.

Note that these people suffer from low O2 in cells and low CO2 in airways. CO2 in arterial blood can be high in those groups of people who develop problems with lungs. This will help to understand the title of this page.

Overeating (or eating meals), anxiety, stress, night sleep, deep breathing exercises, poor posture and exertion all lead to more hyperventilation (and alveolar hypocapnia). As a result, it is obvious that they are triggers of breathing difficulties.

Treatment for breathing difficulties

Treatment of breathing difficulties should be based on treatment of hyperventilation syndrome. Significant reduction in breathing difficulties has been achieved in tens of clinical trials after the application of various respiratory therapies and breathing devices. Patients need to achieve more than X seconds (see more below) for the body-oxygen test to prevent shortness of breath at rest. When people have normal breathing (about 6 L/min with 10-12 breaths per minute and only 500-600 mL per breath), they generally do not feel their breathing, because normal breathing is tiny. Therefore, breathing normalization is the physiologically correct solution for this health problem with breathing difficulties.

As about the number X, it is provided right below here, as well as the best starting options (most effective treatment options) to get quick results in higher body oxygenation and less problems with difficulty breathing.

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