Rapid, Shallow Breathing

What Causes Rapid Shallow Breathing?

Rapid shallow breathing can have various causes, ranging in severity from 'worrying' to 'generally fatal'.  Finding the true cause means ruling out or confirming each possibility – in other words, diagnosis.

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Diagnosis is usually a complex process due to the sheer number of possible causes and related symptoms.  In order to diagnose rapid shallow breathing, we could:

  • Research the topic
  • Find a doctor with the time
  • Use a diagnostic computer system.
The process is the same, whichever method is used.

Step 1: List all Possible Causes

We begin by identifying the disease conditions which have "rapid shallow breathing" as a symptom.  Here are seven possibilities:
  • Pneumonia
  • Congestive Heart Failure
  • Anxiety
  • Chronic Bronchitis
  • Pulmonary Embolism
  • Asthma
  • Pulmonary Fibrosis

Step 2: Build a Symptom Checklist

We then identify all possible symptoms and risk factors of each possible cause, and check the ones that apply:
edema of the abdomen
scrotal edema
slightly elevated eosinophil count
joint pain/swelling/stiffness
COPD
angry/hostile disposition
recent serious attitude to life
recent dry cough
moderate unexplained weight loss
edema of the feet
regular sleep paralysis
nausea for 1-3 months
... and more than 50 others

Step 3: Rule Out or Confirm each Possible Cause

A differential diagnosis of your symptoms and risk factors finds the likely cause of rapid shallow breathing:
Cause Probability Status
Pulmonary Embolism 90% Confirm
Pneumonia 24% Unlikely
Asthma 23% Unlikely
Chronic Bronchitis 3% Ruled out
Pulmonary Fibrosis 0% Ruled out
Anxiety 0% Ruled out
Congestive Heart Failure 0% Ruled out
* This is a simple example to illustrate the process

Arriving at a Correct Diagnosis

The Analyst™ is our online diagnosis tool that learns all about you through a straightforward process of multi-level questioning, providing diagnosis at the end.

If you indicate having breathing problems, The Analyst™ will ask further questions including this one:
Do you ever breathe rapidly, taking many short/shallow breaths instead of longer, deeper breaths? At rest, an adult normally breathes in and out once every 4 to 8 seconds.
Possible responses:
→ Don't know
→ No, I breathe at a normal rate
→ Yes, I sometimes breathe rapidly while at rest
→ Yes, I often/always breathe rapidly while at rest
Based on your response to this question, which may indicate normal breathing, occasional rapid, shallow breathing or frequent rapid, shallow breathing, The Analyst™ will consider possibilities such as:
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