Labored breathing
Labored breathing is a medical emergency. Breathing is an automatic process, regulated in the brainstem.

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Definition

Labored breathing is working hard to breathe.

Alternative Names

Labored respiration, struggling to breathe.

Synopsis

Labored breathing is a medical emergency. Breathing is an automatic process, regulated in the brainstem. Working to breathe is usually a sign of a serious medical problem requiring immediate intervention.

Associated Diagnoses

  • Adult respiratory distress syndrome
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Asthma
  • Burns (inhalation injury)
  • Pneumonia
  • Croup
  • Pneumothorax
  • SARS
  • Encephalitis
  • Diabetic ketoacidosis
  • Diptheria
  • Head injury
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Foreign body, swallowed
  • Skull fracture
  • Patent ductus arteriosus
  • Lung cancer
  • Shock

Diagnosis and Treatments

A complete history and physical by a qualified provider to assess and treat any underlying condition will be needed to determine the cause of labored breathing. Diagnostic studies may include chest x-rays, CT scan, blood test, arterial blood gases, or ventilation/perfusion scan of the lungs. Treatment will depend on the findings, with the immediate goal of adequate ventilation.

Call 911:

For labored breathing, especially if accompanied by:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid breathing
  • Nasal flaring
  • Air hunger
  • Gasping for breath
  • Choking
  • Chest pain
  • Confusion
  • Sweating profusely
  • Pallor (pale skin)
  • Cyanosis (skin turns blue)
  • Dizziness
  • Coughing up blood
  • Fever

Written by: JC Jones MA, RN
Reviewed by: Paul Auerbach, MD
Written: November 30, 2007
Last Updated: November 30, 2007
Published By: Healthline Networks Inc.
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