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Dr. Andrew Rynne
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Dr. Andrew Rynne

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What causes shortness of breath, heart palpitations and tingling fingers?

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Dr. Bonnie Berger-Durnbaugh

General & Family Physician

Practicing since :1991

Answered : 3129 Questions

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Posted on Tue, 19 Jan 2016 in Lung and Chest disorders
Question: hi. about a week ago I've been having these breathing problems. it feels like I can't get enough oxygen or something and when I fall asleep, I'll sometimes wake up gasping for air. And this morning I fell asleep around 11:30 AM but woke up around 1pm with a rapid heart beat and breathing fast and my fingertips were tingly. I panicked but took big slow deep breaths to calm my heart down. now I'm laying here focusing on breathing and trying to sleep but I can't. I do have athsma and I've been smoking for about two months but stopped when I first started noticing these symptoms. and my inhaler also doesn't work to help my breathing
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Answered by Dr. Bonnie Berger-Durnbaugh 58 minutes later
Brief Answer:
May be panic attacks.

Detailed Answer:
Hello -

Your symptoms may be from panic attacks. These can wake a person up short of breath, heart racing, and with symptoms such as tingling.

If these symptoms come on in episodes rather than lasting all of the time, it is likely they are panic attacks.

However, if you find that you are short of breath all the time, then do go in to be evaluated with an exam and chest X-ray.

So what to do about panic attacks? There are medications that can help. An SSRI such as Lexapro, can decrease or eliminate having the panic attacks. A medication like this takes a couple weeks to work. Then there are anti anxiety medications that can be used as needed, and work fast, such as lorazepam or alprazolam. If you have frequent panic attacks, a long acting form of lorazepam called clonazepam can help. These benzodiazepines (lorazepam, etc) can be used at the same time as the SSRI medication. An antidepressant/antianxiety medicine like the SSRIs are important because benzodiazepines can be somewhat addictive and you can develop tolerance to them. So they latter are useful while waiting for the SSRI to kick in (a few weeks) and for occasional break thru of symptoms.

It is good that you know some breathing techniques. These will help. Learning mindfulness techniques and meditation can help too. And talking with a counselor about any concerns you may have may help.

Panic attacks are not under your conscious control, so please don't feel like you are doing something wrong or not strong enough. And they happen to many people.

Please make an appointment with your doctor to discuss these. And if you feel they are out of control and you can't get in to see your doctor soon, then consider going to an urgent care clinic. The doctors there will probably give you just a few tablets of a benzodiazepine, and have you follow up with your doctor. They likely will not give you an SSRI antidepressant/antianxiety medicine at an urgent care clinic as they don't know you and these are usually given if you are under ongoing care.

I hope this information helps. Please let me know if I can provide further information or clarification.
Above answer was peer-reviewed by : Dr. Chakravarthy Mazumdar
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