Typically, orthopnea refers to symptoms where shortness of breath happens when lying down. This may cause individuals to awaken during the night because they are experiencing difficulty breathing. Frequently, orthopnea signals an existing underlying medical condition such as congestive heart failure, or CHF. Frequently, difficulty breathing can cause significant anxiety, which tends to exacerbate the condition. Dyspnea, or difficulty breathing, is managed better when the patient remains calm.
Congestive heart failure occurs when the pumping action of the cardiac muscle cannot effectively perform its function. Generally, symptoms of heart failure include edema or swelling, orthopnea, and fatigue. In addition, weakness, dizziness, and insomnia can occur. Sometimes, fluid may be present in the lungs, which may worsen the disorder and cause a smothering sensation.
Another cause may include a medical condition called cor pulmonale. This cardiac condition refers to when the right sided heart starts to fail because of high blood pressure in the arteries of the lung. Typically, high blood pressure in the pulmonary arteries can contribute to difficulty breathing because it can causes wheezing and coughing. Sometimes oxygen therapy may be indicated to assist with breathing, greatly relieving orthopnea.
Occasionally, breathing difficulty may be the result of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. This condition is a group of respiratory illnesses that include emphysema and bronchitis. Frequently, COPD makes orthopnea increasingly difficult, while producing wheezing, chronic cough and yellow sputum. In addition, COPD can predispose patients to respiratory infections and hospitalizations. Generally, treating COPD related respiratory distress includes the use of bronchodilators, oxygen and sometimes steroids.
Treating nocturnal shortness of breath can be challenging. Lying flat when sleeping tends to make breathing more difficult in the patient experiencing respiratory distress. When this occurs, the patient may be advised to sleep propped up on a few pillows instead of lying flat. In addition, raising the head of the bed with blocks may provide profound relief from shortness of breath by preventing fluid accumulation in the lungs.
Generally, when breathing difficulty occurs when lying flat, the physician may recommend the use of supplemental oxygen therapy. Patients who receive oxygen, either via face mask or nasal cannula prongs, may a find that breathing and anxiety is much improved. Sometimes, it may be recommended that the patient take diuretics to reduce fluid buildup in the lungs, which can worsen night time dyspnea. Diuretics also help lower blood pressure, which can also contribute to heart, lung, and breathing difficulties.