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Symptoms 101: Paroxysmal Nocturnal Dyspnea

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Paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea, what are causes and are there available treatments?

Many things can wake you up at night: thirst, hunger, bathroom runs and even bad dreams. But there’s nothing scarier than waking up suffocating, choking and gasping for breath. If you have never experienced this, you’re lucky. But if you have seen someone close to you experience this, you might be looking at one of the symptoms of a more distressing disease—heart failure.

Paroxysmal Nocturnal Dyspnea

Paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea is characterized by acute shortness of breath almost always accompanied by coughing and wheezing. This respiratory distress usually occurs when a person is already several hours into sleep in a reclining position. This terrifying ordeal can also come with elevated heart rates and cold sweats.

Paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea is also called cardiac asthma. This is because its symptoms mimic those of asthma attacks. However, PND symptoms’ resemblance to asthma ends there. Asthma attacks are brought on by airways constricting because of inflammation. Pulmonary distress in PND is due to the lung’s air sacs filling up with fluid or pulmonary edema.

Usually a person who’s having a paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea would wake up between 30 minutes to 2 hours into sleep. Gasping for air, he can sit upright or rush to the nearest open window in an attempt to alleviate the feeling of suffocation. It might take more than a few minutes to recover from PND. Although PND is usually not fatal, it is a life- threatening condition.

Paroxysmal Nocturnal Dyspnea and Heart Failure

Most of the time, people would imagine heart failure as heart attack. You know, exactly the way television and the movies gave us the classic images of heart attacks. It might be someone looking really upset suddenly clutching his chest in obvious pain. One minute he’s fine, the next he’s lying on the floor unconscious needing immediate medical attention.

Heart failure doesn’t need to be sudden.

Paroxysmal Nocturnal Dyspnea, for example, is just one of the symptoms of left-side heart failure.

During the day, a person with left-side heart failure accumulates fluid in his legs. At night when he lies down, the heart’s failure to maintain proper blood pressure allows the fluid to accumulate in the lungs, specifically, in the air sacs. As the lungs fill up, oxygen levels drop down. The heart now functions on overdrive. Unable to match the capacity of the right side of the heart, the left side triggers a pulmonary distress.

Paroxysmal Nocturnal Dyspnea and Treatment

Instant ways to find relief during the night is always instinctive. You can also try adding more pillows to elevate your upper body. However, the best way to make sure that this is avoided is to treat the underlying cause. If you are experiencing PND, it is important to immediately consult your doctor. A battery of test might be in order.

Fluid retention is also best avoided by altering your diet. A low-sodium diet could help in the bout against fluid retention. This means avoiding salty, processed and other high-sodium content in what you eat.

Under doctor prescriptions, you might also be advised to take some diuretics, medications to treat pulmonary edema and supplementary oxygen. It is important that you ask your doctor what these medication’s side effects are.


Ann Poindexter
Posted on Oct 4, 2013
Fran Ll
Posted on Feb 14, 2012
Roberta Baxter
Posted on Oct 12, 2011
Roberta Baxter
Posted on Oct 11, 2011
William J. Felchner
Posted on Feb 25, 2011

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Fran Ll

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