Being overweight can have lead to many serious health conditions and any of them can lead to shortness of breath. But can you have shortness of breath from being overweight alone?
The short answer is: yes, you can have shortness of breath from being overweight alone.
To learn more about how being overweight can cause shortness of breath, when you need to be concerned about it, what kind of other symptoms to look for, and what you can do about them in both the short term and long term, please continue to read the article. I have personally treated many patients who were hospitalized with shortness of breath from being overweight. I hope people reading this article understand the relationship between being overweight and shortness of breath before their symptoms are bad enough to require hospitalization. I hope they can catch it early and improve their outcomes.
Obesity hypoventilation syndrome: Shortness of breath from being overweight
The medical condition of having shortness of breath from being overweight is called obesity hypoventilation syndrome. It is also called the Pickwikian syndrome. It is closely related to another condition that you may be more familiar with: Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Obesity Hypoventilation syndrome often occur together, but you may have one without the other. If you have already been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, you are at very high risk of also having obesity hypoventilation syndrome.
How being overweight leads to shortness of breath
Now let’s go into detail about how being overweight causes obesity hypoventilation syndrome and shortness of breath. Although researchers have described many complicated mechanisms of how being overweight leads to shortness of breath, it all comes down to a simple fact: extra fat prevents your lungs from expanding properly.
As you gain weight, fat begins to accumulate in your chest and your abdomen. The amount of fat continues to grow. It becomes more difficult for your lungs to expand fully when you breathe in. As a result, the lower portion of your lungs cannot open fully and they start to collapse.
In the beginning stages of shortness of breath from being overweight, the collapsing of the lungs may only happen at night. When you lie down, the excess fat in your chest compresses on your lungs and make it difficult for you to take deep breaths. Parts of your lungs start to collapse and you have problems getting enough air in and out of your lungs. As you continue to gain weight, you acquire even more fat. Eventually, portions of your lungs collapse permanently.
Later, more fat will deposit itself in your chest and your belly and make it difficult for your lungs to expand even when you are sitting up or standing. When you can’t use significant portions of your lungs, you get shortness of breath from poor air exchange.
Your lungs mainly deal with two types of gas exchange: taking oxygen in and throwing carbon dioxide out. Both of these processes suffer when you start to have shortness of breath from obesity. As we explore the symptoms of shortness of breath from being overweight, you will understand how these two gases relate to your symptoms.
Symptoms of shortness of breath due to being overweight
Here are some of the symptoms related to not getting enough oxygen:
- Getting tired easily
- Feeling like you are not getting enough air
- Daily headaches
- Feeling your heart pounding on your chest
- Having problems remembering thingsIncreased anxiety
Here are some of the symptoms of not being able to throw away excess carbon dioxide:
- Feeling drowsy and sleepy all the time
- Getting confused at times
- Twitching of muscles
- Feeling exhausted
- Flushed skin
- Feeling depressed or paranoid
Serious health complications related to shortness of breath from obesity
Shortness of breath from obesity can lead to serious life threatening complications. It is important to pay attention to your symptoms and get medical help early. If you let it go untreated for a long time, you may end up in the hospital with severe complications. It is very difficult to treat when you develop irreversible complications in your heart and your lungs.
As you are unable to get enough oxygen, the blood vessels inside your lungs try to squeeze more oxygen out of the air they are still getting. In the short term, your lungs get a little more oxygen that way, but that takes a heavy toll on them. Eventually, the pressures inside your lungs go up significantly. The right side of your lungs have to work extra hard to push more blood into your lungs. Eventually, you will have permanent damage to your heart and your lungs. These damages can be life-threatening and very difficult to treat. Next, I will tell you what you can do to take care of yourself and prevent these complications. It needs a two-part strategy: short term and long term.
Short term strategy to prevent complications from shortness of breath due to being overweight
First, it is important to recognize the early symptoms and seek help as soon as you can. If you have gained significant weight in the last few months and now you feel like you are not getting enough air, call your doctor right away and tell him or her that you are concerned about possible obesity hypoventilation syndrome. The most important test to diagnose this condition is called blood gas analysis. They will draw a special blood sample from the artery and test the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide.
If your diagnosis is confirmed, you need to go home with an oxygen tube. It is important to get enough oxygen in your lungs so that the blood vessels stop squeezing more air. This is the most effective way to stop the pressure from going up and damaging your heart and lungs.
Next, you need to get tested for obstructive sleep apnea. Like I said earlier, sleep apnea and shortness of breath from obesity frequently go together. You need to get a sleep study to diagnose your sleep apnea. Using a CPAP machine at night can treat sleep apnea. Treating sleep apnea is very important when you have both sleep apnea and obesity hypoventilation syndrome.
Long-term strategies to prevent complications from shortness of breath due to being overweight
You may have easily guessed what you can do to prevent complications from shortness of breath due to being overweight: of course, lose weight. However, losing weight is not that easy. But it is the only thing that will prolong your life by preventing the complications that we discussed earlier. Short-term strategies can only keep things from getting worse in the short term.
If you have already been diagnosed with obesity hypoventilation syndrome, you will need to lose weight. If you are struggling from it, you may need to consider drastic and invasive methods such as gastric bypass surgery or gastric banding. It is time to talk to a weight loss specialist and a surgeon.
In conclusion, shortness of breath from being overweight is not just an inconvenience. It is the starting point of severe health problems that can lead to life-threatening complications. Please pay attention to your symptoms and seek help early.