Shortness of breath is common in HCM patients
Many patients report the most burdensome symptom of HCM is living with shortness of breath (SOB). This can cause patients to limit many forms of exercise (e.g., team sports, hiking, biking, etc.). But it can also impact simple activities of daily living such as ironing, house cleaning, and getting dressed. Patients report becoming winded walking to the mailbox or making a bed. Some report that it feels like a constriction around their chest.
The most commonly seen misdiagnosis associated with HCM is asthma, specifically 'athletically induced asthma" as a first sign or symptom. This is likely due to transient shortness of breath often seen in HCM.
Having shortness of breath that is new to you?
If you are short of breath and it is new to you, but none of these obvious causes applies, you should seek medical attention. There are medical reasons other than HCM that can cause SOB.
Acute shortness of breath (SOB that comes on suddenly) can be due to these symptoms, among others:
- heart or lung problems
- severe allergic reaction
- carbon monoxide poisoning
- cardiac arrhythmias
- heart attack
- heart failure
Acute SOB at rest is also a common symptom of HCM. Chronic shortness of breath (SOB lasting weeks or longer) is often caused by asthma, COPD, other heart problems, pleural effusion (fluid around the lung) or obesity.
What can you do to keep it from getting worse?
To keep chronic shortness of breath from progressing, some steps you can take include the following.
Stop smoking. If you don't smoke, don't start. If you already smoke, quit. Smoking is the leading cause of COPD which can then lead to shortness of breath. Quitting, or avoiding smoking, can slow disease progression and complications.
Avoid pollutant exposure. Try to avoid breathing allergens and environmental toxins as much as possible as they can aggravate shortness of breath.
Avoid extreme temperatures and altitudes. Extreme temperatures and altitudes can increase shortness of breath caused by lung disease. If you are traveling to areas with these situations, make sure you adjust yourself gradually to temperature and altitude and avoid exertion until you do.
Exercise regularly. Exercising can help improve the ability to tolerate activity and condition your body.
Take prescribed medications. Skipping medications used in treating conditions can lead to poorer control of shortness of breath.
Check your equipment regularly. If you use supplemental oxygen, make sure you have an adequate supply and that the machinery works properly.