Mesothelioma and Shortness of Breath

Shortness of breath is one of the most common complications of pleural mesothelioma. Breathing complications can happen at any point, but many patients experience it in the early stages. There are many different treatment options available that can manage symptoms and control breathing complications.

What Causes Shortness of Breath in Mesothelioma Patients?

People diagnosed with Mesothelioma may experience this complication for various reasons, including tumor growth on the pleural lining or a buildup of fluid in the pleural cavity, called pleural effusion. Most complications, like shortness of breath among patients, can be treated. They can become dangerous or deadly if left untreated.

Respiratory Distress

Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) prevents your lungs from filling with air due to a buildup of fluid in the alveoli in your lungs. The deficiency of air filling up your lungs prevents enough oxygen from reaching your bloodstream, depriving your organs of the amount of oxygen needed to function.

Mesothelioma patients may experience respiratory distress after cancer treatments. Though doctors may treat ARDS with mechanical ventilation or an artificial lung, many patients who have ARDS may pass away from respiratory failure.

Other breathing complications from mesothelioma surgery include:

  • Bronchial air leaks (air leaking from lungs)
  • Hemothorax (bleeding around lungs)
  • Mediastinal shift (shifting organs inside the chest)
  • Pulmonary edema (fluid buildup in lungs)
  • Pulmonary embolus (blood clots in lungs)

The risk of death from a respiratory complication among mesothelioma patients increases with age and the severity of the disease. Respiratory complications can cause chronic damage to the lungs.

Fluid Buildup

Fluid buildup can occur in various organs of patients with any form of mesothelioma, including pleural, pericardial, and peritoneal. While pleural effusion is the most common cause due to fluid buildup, this can also occur in the pericardium and peritoneum.

For patients living with peritoneal mesothelioma, fluid may build up in the abdominal cavity near the diaphragm and lungs. The organ’s proximity to the lung makes breathing hard due to restricted movement and swelling.

For pericardial mesothelioma patients, abnormal heartbeats interfere with blood circulation, leading to less oxygen reaching the organs. This occurrence inevitably causes shortness of breath among patients.

Collapsed Lung and Other Lung Issues

While uncommon, some mesothelioma patients may experience a collapsed lung, called pneumothorax. This occurs when an unusual accumulation of air enters the pleural space between the lung and chest wall causing the lung to collapse.

Shortness of breath and other breathing problems can occur when cancer tumors restrict the normal movement of the lungs and other organs near or in the chest cavity. As the cancer advances, organs and tissues have trouble stretching with movement or breathing, making it difficult to get enough air.

How to Treat Respiratory Complications from Mesothelioma

Shortness of breath is treatable and in some cases, necessary for mesothelioma care. Coping with shortness of breath can improve your quality of life and make cancer treatment more manageable.

Anyone can take steps to help reduce shortness of breath, such as avoiding smoking, secondhand smoke, areas with high air pollution, or areas with an elevation over 5,000 feet. People may also improve shortness of breath with regular physical and breathing exercises.

Mesothelioma patients, however, may experience severe symptoms that require medical attention, such as:

  • Feeling shortness of breath while resting
  • Chest pain
  • Fainting, cold sweats, or nausea
  • Blue lips or fingers
  • Swelling of ankles and feet
  • Wheezing
  • Fever and cough

Various breathing conditions may require different treatments. Mesothelioma patients who experience fluid building around the lungs may find ease from having the fluid drained. If shortness of breath worsens suddenly, you may have developed an infection, such as pneumonia requiring additional care.

Reducing Symptoms

There are various remedies to help ease your shortness of breath at home. Being rushed or having anxiety about breathing can make it harder on you. Slowing down and making an effort to focus on your breathing may relieve symptoms. If you have to be somewhere, arrive so you can take a few minutes to catch your breath.

Additionally, directing a fan at your face may help reduce shortness of breath, although it does not increase blood oxygen levels. Your doctor may suggest other methods for improving your breathing so that the proper amount of oxygen enters your body.

To prevent yourself from experiencing trouble breathing from feeling full, eat more frequent, smaller meals or snacks so that you’re maintaining a good diet with proper nutrition but aren’t getting too full. Stick with high-protein meals and drink plenty of liquids. Taking smaller bites and chewing may also reduce shortness of breath.

You may benefit from making accessibility adjustments in your home. Keep your home organized and important objects easily accessible so you’re not trying too hard to access them. Using pillows to prop yourself up when sitting or lying down can also be beneficial.

Mesothelioma Support Team

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