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Thursday, February 20, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Dr. Gott: Breathing problem needs more tests

By Peter H. Gott, M.D.

DEAR DR. GOTT: Can you give me an idea or guess the problem that I have, as no one has yet diagnosed it? It’s a breathing problem that seems to be getting worse, but slowly.

My breathing is shallow, and I often count 20 or more intakes per minute. I quit smoking 24 years ago, and the problem was not there then.

I have had a series of laboratory tests that all say there is nothing, but this condition can’t be right. My doctor says I don’t have asthma, and he doubts that it’s pulmonary hypertension, though after reading about it, I do have some of the symptoms that are mentioned.

I work at a plastics plant that often “cooks” the plastic, which smells and tastes nasty, but no one else there – some 700 employees – has had this trouble. I also operate an EDM machine that uses chemicals known to cause skin irritations, but again, no other person has had this breathing disorder.

I am active for a 60-year-old. I swim and hike regularly but now have to stop more frequently to catch my breath. I tire a lot more easily and usually sleep when I get back from what was once a routine walk. I suppose age must play a part here, but the relative suddenness of this tells me this isn’t normal. Can you help me, Dr. Gott?

DEAR READER: A normal breathing rate for healthy adults is between eight and 16 breaths per minute. At a rate of 20, this is slightly abnormal, but given your claim that it is progressing, I believe you need further examination and testing.

Rapid, shallow breathing is known as tachypnea and is associated with several pulmonary disorders, including asthma, pneumonia and other lung infections, pulmonary embolism (blood clot) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Pulmonary hypertension is high blood pressure that affects the arteries in the lungs and the right side of the heart only. It causes the heart to weaken over time and eventually causes it to fail completely.

Symptoms include shortness of breath while exercising that eventually occurs during rest, fatigue, chest pressure or pain, a racing pulse or heart palpitations, dizziness or fainting spells, cyanosis of the lips and skin, and edema of the legs and ankles, which eventually affects the abdomen.

Potential difficulties from pulmonary hypertension include blood clots, irregular heartbeat, right-sided heart failure and bleeding into the lungs. Inadequate treatment or postponing treatment increases the risk of developing a complication.

Request a referral to a pulmonologist (lung specialist), who can examine you and order further testing, which may include a chest X-ray, CT scan or MRI of your lungs. You may also need additional blood testing.

To provide related information, I am sending you a copy of my Health Report “Pulmonary Disease.” Other readers who would like a copy should send a self-addressed stamped No. 10 envelope and a $2 check or money order to newsletter, P.O. Box 167, Wickliffe, OH 44092-0167. Be sure to mention the title or print an order form off my website at

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