Shortness of breath can be cause for doctor’s visit

February 20, 2019

Q. Is shortness of breath part of aging?

The likelihood of suffering shortness of breath or “dyspnea” (disp-nee-ah) becomes greater the older we get. As we age, our air passages get smaller, chest muscles weaken, and our lungs become less flexible. These changes reduce our air flow.

Dyspnea should happen rarely to healthy people. It can be brought on by exhaustive exertion, high altitude, or extreme temperatures. Otherwise, shortness of breath is commonly a sign of a medical problem that should be checked by a doctor.

Dyspnea is associated with the major breathing disorders that can develop in seniors – chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, obstructive sleep apnea, pulmonary fibrosis, pulmonary thromboembolism and aspiration.

Shortness of breath can be caused by a variety of abnormalities in organs other than the lungs.

When the heart fails, it loses its ability pump blood. This elevates pressure in the blood vessels around the lungs. Sometimes fluid collects in the lungs and interferes with breathing, causing shortness of breath, especially when a person is lying down.

A low red-blood-cell count causes dyspnea because the red cells carry oxygen. When their number is extremely low, your body doesn’t get enough oxygen.

In addition, a high thyroid level, shock, systemic infection, kidney or chronic liver problems, stroke, nerve and muscle disorders, and anxiety can bring on dyspnea.

Q. My grandson has been told he has a “personality disorder.” What is that?

People with a personality disorder have serious trouble getting along with others. They are usually rigid and unable to adapt to the changes life presents to all of us. They simply don’t function well in society.

People with personality disorders are more likely to commit homicide and suicide, and suffer from social isolation, alcohol and drug addiction, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and self-destructive behavior such as excessive gambling.

About one in seven U.S. adults has at least one personality disorder, and many have more than one. Personality disorders are usually first noticed around the teen years. However, personality disorders can surface at any time, including old age.

Childhood experiences and your genes play major roles in personality disorders. However, personality changes can be brought on in older adults if they have trouble handling the losses of family and friends, other major life changes or their own medical problems.

Psychotherapy and medication for symptoms such as anxiety and depression can help. The symptoms of some personality disorders also may improve with age.

Q. I believe in herbal products. Do you?

You have to be very careful when you use herbal health products and dietary supplements, especially if you are a senior. Always consult a doctor before taking any of these products, which I like to label “alternatives.”

These products may not be safe if you have cancer, an enlarged prostate gland, high blood pressure, diabetes, glaucoma, heart disease, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, psychiatric issues, or problems with clotting blood, your immune system, liver or thyroid. You should be especially cautious about these products if you are taking drugs that treat any of these health problems.

Alternatives can interfere with the way your body should process medicine. For example, you may not absorb enough of the medicine that you need.

These products can cause difficulties during surgery, including bleeding and problems with anesthesia. You should stop using herbal products at least two weeks before surgery.

In the United States, alternatives are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as foods. Therefore, they are not held to the same standards as medicines, whose manufacturers must prove they are safe and effective.

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