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  • Writer's pictureShruti GOCHHWAL

Pseudo-Dyspnea: When Shortness Of Breath Is Psychological

Have you been observing shortness of breath more often nowadays? Does it get worse when you try to take rest? Shortness of breath while lying down may result due to a condition called pseudo-dyspnea.

What is Pseudo Dyspnea? And it’s Symptoms

Pseudo dyspnea symptoms means false shortness of breath. It is the opposite of true dyspnea.  People suffering from Pseudo dyspnea experience worsening of the symptoms by rest. It is usually improved by exertion and worsened by rest. It is generally caused by mental conditions like anxiety or panic attack. Some other causes may include esophagitis or indigestion.

Symptoms of Pseudo Dyspnea

  1. Shortness of breath and tiredness

  2. Increased heart rate

  3. Restricted, incomplete short breaths

1.  Anxiety-related Shortness of Breath

Shortness of breath

Shortness of breath, Credits: pixabay

Anxiety-related shortness of breath is known as psychogenic dyspnea. When your body senses danger, it activates your fight-or-flight response. Stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system kickstarts a physiological response that can cause a cascade of effects like racing your heart and causes quicker and shallow breathing. This way you may feel shortness of breath.1,2,3


  1. Deep diaphragmatic breathing techniques can help regulate your shortness of breath by relaxing and calming you down.

  2. Try diverting your mind when you feel false shortness of breath, perform light activities like solving crossword puzzles, mental exercises like counting backwards.

  3. You can also read some books, or watch a movie or can play video games.

2. Panic Attacks Causing Shortness of Breath

Pseudo dyspnea

Shortness of breath due to panic, Credits: pixabay

Panic attacks are sudden and often come on unexpectedly. These attacks are accompanied by many physical sensations which most commonly include pseudo dyspnea symptoms like falling short of breath or hyperventilation. When panic attacks and anxiety occurs we usually don’t hold control over our normal breathing pattern. This may cause our breathing to become more shallow and restricted. Instead of filling the lungs with full, complete breaths, we take in quick and short breaths.

Hyperventilation, in turn, may cause other symptoms like faintness, lightheadedness, dizziness,  coughing and confusion.


  1. Specific anti-anxiety psychological therapies can be given that can help change your thinking patterns. This can help keep your anxiety and panic attacks under control and reduce unnecessary worries.

  2. Usually, the symptoms may evade away in an hour or two. But, in case of severe symptoms specific anti-anxiety medicines can be given.

  3. Both of these therapies are effective in controlling false symptoms.

3. Esophagitis

Acid reflux

Restlessness during sleep, Credits: pixabay

Esophagitis is inflammation of the oesophagus – muscular tube that sends food from your mouth to your stomach. When the acidic contents of your stomach enter into your oesophagus it irritates the oesophagus causing inflammation.

The acid also stimulates the nerves in the lower end of the oesophagus, causing muscle contraction. This contraction causes small airways to constrict, which causes a feeling of breathlessness. Shortness of breath becomes worse during the night when the body is in a prone position.

Treatment of pseudo dyspnea symptoms associated with esophagitis.

  1. Lifestyle modifications such as limiting the use of tobacco and alcohol.

  2. Avoiding heavy meals fatty and spicy foods.

  3. Restricting caffeine, citrus fruits and tomatoes.

  4. Eating small meals and keeping a gap of at least 3 hours between dinner and bedtime can help you avoid shortness of breath.

  5. If the symptoms continue, antacids can be taken to neutralize stomach acid. Other medications, such as proton pump inhibitors or beta-blockers, can also be taken.

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