The Only Cause of Shortness of Breath

By Dr. Artour Rakhimov (

Shortness of breath (which is also known as dyspnea or breathlessness) is a breathing difficulty. This symptom is common for many health conditions including cystic fibrosis, heart disease, HIV-AIDS, cancer, lung pathologies, emphysema, COPD, and many other conditions. Usual triggers for shortness of breath include anxiety, exertion and meals (especially overeating).

Shortness of breath is possible only in conditions of chronic hyperventilation (or breathing more than the medical norm or normal breathing). What is normal breathing?

Normal breathing is mainly diaphragmatic (i.e., abdominal), strictly nasal (in and out), slow (in its frequency) and imperceptible and unnoticeable (or small/shallow in its volume).

The physiological and medical norm for minute ventilation at rest is 6 litres of air per minute for a 70 kg man (see references for textbooks below: Guyton, 1984; Ganong, 1995; Straub, 1998; Castro, 2000; etc.). These medical books also provide the following values for normal breathing:
- normal tidal volume (air volume breathed in during a single breath): 500 ml;
- normal breathing rate (normal respiratory rate): 12 breaths per minute;
- inspiration (inhalation): about 1.5-2 seconds;
- normal exhalation is about 1.5-2 seconds, followed by an automatic pause (no breathing for 1-2 seconds). You can see the graph or normal breathing and ineffective breathing in the sick below.

Effects of Hyperventilation and Co-factors

When we breathe more than the medical norm (hyperventilation), we get less oxygen in body cells. Among the common effects and factors influencing to hyperventilation are:
- constriction of airways (due to alveolar hypocapnia - lack of CO2 constricts bronchi and other airways)
- chest breathing (when we do not use the diaphragm for breathing, we get less oxygen in the arterial blood)
- mouth breathing (it leads to reduced nitric oxide absorption and lowered alveolar CO2)
- increased blood viscosity (when we breathe too much, our blood become more viscous)
- presence of inflammation and mucus in airways causing further narrowing or obstruction of air flow (inflammation is created due to cell hypoxia)
- reduced oxygen tension in the diaphragm and chest muscles due to worsened oxygen transport (the respiratory muscles become weak and tense).
- tense states of the diaphragm and chest muscles due to arterial hypocapnia.

Physical exertion, most forms of exercise (especially with mouth breathing), stress, anxiety, meals (or eating and especially overeating), overheating, deep breathing exercises, attempts to breathe deeply, night sleep and being in the horizontal position, poor posture (slouching) and many other factors lead to hyperventilation. Consequently, they also worsen shortness of breath.

Hence, we need to slow down our automatic breathing in order to solve the problem with shortness of breath. How? Using breathing exercises and lifestyle factors that produce positive effects on our automatic breathing.

Solutions to Shortness of Breath

According to tens of medical studies, there are many breathing techniques improve dyspnea and reduce shortness of breath: pursed lip breathing, PowerLung respiratory device, Powerbreathe breathing trainer, the Frolov breathing device and some other methods.

In my view, the most effective way to deal with shortness of breath is to apply the Frolov breathing device therapy and use Buteyko lifestyle factors for sleep, exercise, meals, posture and many other real life situations.

Resources (from
Shortness of breath is more detailed overview with links to breathing techniques
Dyspnea is a similar overview with links to breathing patterns, and CO2 effects
Dyspnea Cause knol: Details of hypeventilation studies (over 40 medical studies) for the same simple physiological effect.

Dr. Artour Rakhimov is a health educatorauthor of books and the educational website devoted to natural self-oxygenation and health education. The website has hundreds of medical quotes, charts, tables, graphs, references, results of clinical trials, analysis of respiratory techniques, free breathing exercises, manuals, techniques, lifestyle modules and other resources for better cells oxygen content and health. Normal Breathing defeats chronic diseases!

Medical References

Guyton A. C., Physiology of the human body, 6th ed., 1984, Suanders College Publishing, Philadelphia.

Ganong WF, Review of medical physiology, 15th ed., 1995, Prentice Hall International, London.

McArdle W.D., Katch F.I., Katch V.L., Essentials of exercise physiology (2nd edition); Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, London, UK 2000.

Straub NC, Section V, The Respiratory System, in Physiology, eds. RM Berne & MN Levy, 4-th edition, Mosby, St. Louis, 1998.

Summary of Values Useful in Pulmonary Physiology: Man. Section: Respiration and Circulation, ed. by PL Altman & DS Dittmer, 1971, Bethesda, Maryland (Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology).

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