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What Happens When You Stop Breathing?

Updated: Sep 11, 2023

Dyspnea is an unpleasant sensation that can vary from mild to severe and typically varies with activity level. People with dyspnea often describe it as a feeling of not being able to get enough air, difficulty in breathing, shortness of breath, or chest tightness. This article will explain what happens when you stop breathing and how it can be treated effectively.

What is Dyspnea?

Dyspnea is the medical term for shortness of breath. The sensation of dyspnea is when you feel your breathing is labored or difficult. Shortness of breath can be caused due to several issues, including asthma, anxiety, fever, and underlying lung diseases like COPD, pulmonary embolism, etc.

Dyspnea can also be a symptom of heart failure. In this case, it may be accompanied by swelling of the ankles and legs, swelling in the abdomen (called edema), weight gain, and fatigue.

If you experience dyspnea, make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible so that they can evaluate the cause of your symptoms and recommend treatment options.

What Happens When You Stop Breathing?

In a nutshell: oxygen is essential to human life. It's necessary for all of the body's functions; without it, you'll struggle with essential bodily functions like breathing and moving your muscles—and eventually, no breath means you die.

The human body needs oxygen to live. Without enough, your cells can't get the energy they need to keep working correctly. That means you'll start feeling tired pretty quickly—but you may also experience sluggishness in other parts of your body before long.

If these symptoms sound familiar (and aren't already), take them as warning signs that something has gone wrong with your breathing!

Breathing Tests

A breathing test is a way to get a sense of how well your lungs are functioning and can help diagnose conditions like asthma and COPD.

The test is pretty simple: you'll be asked to breathe into a device that measures how much air you can breathe and how quickly you exhale. The results will be compared with those of a healthy person of your age and gender, so you can see what your numbers mean.

The test results can tell you if there's something wrong with your lungs—for example if they're not getting enough oxygen—or whether there's some other problem causing your symptoms (like an infection).

Sleep Apnea and Other Conditions that Cause Breathing Issues

Sleep apnea is a severe condition that can cause you to stop breathing while asleep. It happens when the muscles at the back of your throat relax and block air from getting into your lungs. This is known as obstructive sleep apnea, and it's one of the two types of sleep apnea. The other kind involves pauses in breathing while you're sleeping (called central sleep apnea). Sleep experts estimate that as many as 18 million Americans don't breathe in their sleep and have this disorder, and nearly 9 million are diagnosed with severe cases.

Stroke, injury, and infection can also make it hard to breathe. A stroke results from a sudden blood loss to a part of the brain. A stroke in your brain stem, which controls breathing, could cause respiratory failure. Your lungs may not be able to work correctly, or you may stop breathing altogether for a few minutes (while asleep), which could lead to brain damage or death if untreated.

Suppose you have an injury like a broken neck or head injury that affects your nervous system function, including controlling the muscles needed for breathing. In that case, you can also experience respiratory failure and potential death due to a lack of oxygen.

Finally, there are infections such as pneumonia, where bacteria get into our lungs, causing us not to be able to get enough oxygen through inhalation. Bacteria clog up alveoli (tiny sacs) inside our lungs that help exchange carbon dioxide from our bodies into fresh air from outside sources. This blockage can result in an excess of carbon dioxide in the lungs, leading to certain death.

Treatment of Sleep Apnea and Other Breathing Issues

Breathing problems are caused by many things, including viruses, bacteria, and other germs; allergies; lung diseases like asthma or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease); heart disease; stroke; certain medicines; choking on food or drink; poisoning from drugs or chemicals in the air we breathe, or carbon monoxide poisoning resulting from unsafe heating appliances in our home (or car).

Not all breathing problems are treated with medicine or surgery. Some people with severe asthma may not need treatment but may benefit from using an inhaler or taking other steps to manage their condition at home. These include avoiding triggers such as air pollution and cigarette smoke and cleaning their home regularly to remove dust mites (tiny bugs that live in carpeting).

However, those suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) need medication such as inhaled steroids to control inflammation around the small airways of their lungs, otherwise known as bronchiectasis.


If you are having trouble breathing while sleeping, it is crucial to seek medical attention. Some sleep-breathing issues can be treated with medication, but others may require surgery or other procedures. If you think you may have a condition like sleep apnea or asthma that affects your ability to breathe normally while asleep, contact us right now to get started on treatment options.

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