My Breathing is Worse… What Should I Do?

Breathing is Worse Requires Medical Assessment

Dear Dr. Mahler:
I am 72 years old and take Advair twice a day for my COPD. About 5 weeks ago my arm swelled up, and my primary care doctor thought it was due to an insect bite. She prescribed an antibiotic. When it did not get better, I saw my oncologist who diagnosed that the swelling was due to a blockage in my armpit because my previous breast cancer had spread to the lymph glands. I just completed 4 weeks of radiation treatments. I am writing to you because my breathing has been worse for the past month or so. I went to the Emergency Room two weeks ago to be checked out. A CT scan was normal except for emphysema. There was no blood clot to my lungs. What should I do? I am using albuterol 2 -3 times per day, but it really doesn’t help much. I do take Ativan every couple of days because I have been feeling anxious. Linda from Montpelier, VT
Dear Linda:
Sorry to hear about the cancer recurrence. Regarding your shortness of breath, it is important to have breathing tests done and your oxygen saturation checked to see if these results show any changes. Without this information, it is impossible to know if your breathing is worse because of your COPD or another reason, such as anemia, anxiety, being out of shape (reduced physical activity while you were receiving your radiation treatments, and possible heart disease. All of these conditions are common causes for chronic breathing difficulty.
Oximeter which measures the percentage of oxygen being carried by hemoglobin in the blood

Oximeter which measures the percentage of oxygen being carried by hemoglobin in the blood

Spirometry performed to assess why Breathing is Worse

Woman performing breathing test.

            Sincerely, Donald A. Mahler, M.D.

Donald A. Mahler, M.D. is Emeritus Professor of Medicine at Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth in Hanover, New Hampshire. He works as a pulmonary physician at Valley Regional Hospital in Claremont, NH, where he is Director of Respiratory Services.