Perhaps no other sensation can evoke such fear as the inability to breathe. Dyspnea rivals sensations like hunger or thirst.1 There are numerous causes for dyspnea that range from the benign to life-threatening, and the emergency physician must quickly distinguish the innocuous from the grave. The question is, at what cost? Which patients need only reassurance, and which require an extensive (and expensive) diagnostic work-up?
Patient anxiety may be a major source of diagnostic confusion. A diagnosis of anxiety provides a simple explanation for many cases of dyspnea seen in the ED. But while anxiety can produce breathlessness, lifethreatening diseases also generate hyperventilation in patients and physicians alike. This issue of Emergency Medicine Practice will decrease your trepidation in dealing with this common complaint.