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Anxiety related to fear of having diseases. Unable to breath properly. Prescribed xanax. Any advice?

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Practicing since : 2003
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After having my son 16 months ago, I had postpartum issues. I had high anxiety related to the fear of having one disease after another- mostly connected to death. I had a colonoscopy because pregnancy related hemmroids caused me to worry about colon cancer. Everything was fine. I was on medication for a while which helped, but eventually went off of them. I was doing pretty well for 8 months (not perfect but better). Three days ago, my father told me he need lung x- rays to be done. I immediately thought lung cancer, and I have not been able to breath correctly for three days nows! I went to a doctor who listened to my heart and my lungs and prescribed me Xanax. Either way I am frightened- either I am sick or nuts.

The facts:
39 years old
Smoked for 16 years
I have not smoked in 3-4 years
I was breathing perfectly fine before my dad's announcement
I cough rarely (not every day) but it is in my throat not coming from my lungs ( I currently have post-nasal)
Breathing returned to normal with Xanax.
I do not have any trouble breathing when I am busy and not on Xanax
The problem breathing is not connected to if I am working out or not. It usually comes when I have time to think or think of something upsetting or think about breathing!
I am rational enough to know that this is not very rational, but I would like a professional opinion.
Posted Sat, 27 Apr 2013 in Anxiety and Stress
Answered by Dr. Jonas Sundarakumar 1 hour later
Hello and welcome to Healthcare Magic. Thanks for your query.

Firstly, let me reinstate certain facts regarding your breathing problem, which you have correctly put across.

- Your breathing problem started only after hearing the news about possible lung problems in your dad

- The description of your symptoms DOES NOT match with any heart or lung-related problem

- The problem goes away when you take Xanax or when your mind is distracted

So, in my opinion, there is no doubt that the symptoms which you are experiencing are purely anxiety-related. Now, it is important to understand that anxiety can present with not only psychological symptoms but also with physical symptoms. Breathing problems are one of the most common physical symptoms seen in anxiety disorders. Irregular breathing, fast breathing or hyperventillation or a sensation of difficulty or 'tightness' in breathing are all well known manifestations of anxiety.

Therefore, I think you should stop worrying about your breathing problem and put to rest any fears or doubts about having any serious medical problem.

I would suggest that you practice breathing exercises (you will be able to find ample material and videos on the internet) and also try other relaxation techniques like progressive muscle relaxation, yoga, etc. If your finding it too difficult to handle your anxiety and its related symptoms, then please don't hesitate to seek professional help from a psychiatrist.

Wish you all the best.

Dr. Jonas Sundarakumar
Consultant Psychiatrist
Above answer was peer-reviewed by
Follow-up: Anxiety related to fear of having diseases. Unable to breath properly. Prescribed xanax. Any advice? 11 hours later
Thank you for your response. I have found the website very helpful in fielding important questions that are plaguing me. I would like to know how long this breathing issue usually lasts. I am on day four and still needed half a Xanax this morning to focus myself and control my breathing. How effective have you found the breathing techniques and/or yoga to be? How long should I expect it to take to get a handle on this? The shortness of breath is much harder to deal with than the worrying. Thank you again for your help.
Also, would the doctor who listened to my lungs be able to detect a potential problem if there was one?
Answered by Dr. Jonas Sundarakumar 28 hours later
The breathing exercises, yoga, etc. are actually quite effective. They have been scientifically proven to have significant and long-lasting benefits. In my clinical experience, I have found that many persons prefer such non-pharmacological methods since it is safe and as they can avoid the necessity for medication.

The time taken for you to see results will depend on how serious and dedicated you are in your efforts. With correct techniques practiced actively, you can start seeing results within a few days. In about a week or two, you should be able to have a fairly good control over your breathing.

Regarding your other question, the answer is yes - the doctor who listened to your lungs would have definitely been able to pick up any significant lung problem, if there was any.

Dr. Jonas Sundarakumar
Consultant Psychiatrist

Above answer was peer-reviewed by
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