I’m Anxious to Undergo a Test That Will Provoke My Shortness of Breath
Columnist Charlene Marshall prepares for cardiopulmonary exercise testing
Being short of breath is the worst feeling I’ve ever experienced. Sadly, it’s been getting progressively worse since I was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) in 2016. Shortness of breath, or dyspnea, is one of the most common IPF symptoms.
It took 13 months of seeing multiple specialists to receive my diagnosis. To my surprise, this was a shorter time frame than most people with IPF face, although it felt like an eternity for me. During those 13 months, I experienced a range of symptoms, but I struggled to understand dyspnea and hypoxia, or low oxygen levels, the most.
Prior to being thrust into the lung disease world, I had no idea what shortness of breath felt like. When I was an avid swimmer, I probably would’ve likened it to completing a race in the pool. I only needed to take deep breaths and cease the exercise to return my breathing and heart rate to normal.
But shortness of breath caused by an interstitial lung disease is not the same as that caused by physical exertion. With IPF, I never get an opportunity to rest and return to “normal.”
As part of the diagnostic process, I had to undergo a plethora of tests. My lungs were thoroughly examined, along with my heart, esophagus, and sinuses, as conditions like acid reflux or chronic sinusitis can sometimes cause shortness of breath. My diagnosis journey taught me a great deal about dyspnea and how it differs from hypoxia.
Did you know that you can feel short of breath but have good oxygen levels? In my experience of moderating the Pulmonary Fibrosis News Forums and interacting with other patients online, this is a common yet frustrating experience. Without an obvious explanation for why someone might feel short of breath, physicians might not take the issue seriously if a patient isn’t hypoxic.
In my personal experience, being short of breath but having adequate oxygen levels is sometimes only considered an inconvenience. While the symptom may indeed be inconvenient, it’s also terrifying. Even when my oxygen levels are normal for me, feeling short of breath causes me a lot of anxiety.
That’s why I’m dreading my upcoming cardiopulmonary exercise test (CPET), which will provoke my IPF symptoms.
Why a CPET?
Following my second experience with COVID-19 earlier this year, I’ve felt significantly shorter of breath, and pulmonary function testing has revealed that I’ve lost nearly 11% of my lung function.
At my most recent pulmonology appointment, my doctor and I explored all the options for determining exactly what’s going on with my lungs post-COVID-19. I’ve had all possible imaging done, as it’s the least invasive and risky option, but unfortunately, it didn’t reveal much. My doctor also tried changing my medication regimen for a while, but it didn’t improve my breathing. As a result, she’s recommended the CPET as the next best option.
During the test, my pulmonology team will assess my lung function during an exercise challenge to better understand whether my shortness of breath is due to low oxygen levels from IPF or long-term effects of COVID-19. I’m hopeful for the latter, as I’d have a chance at recovery.
The CPET will be conducted in a hospital with both a registered nurse and my pulmonologist monitoring me. The idea of provoking my IPF symptoms makes me very uneasy, even if my doctor will be there. I must remember that its purpose is to help my medical team find an effective way to manage my symptoms.
To prepare for the test, I’ll be practicing mindfulness strategies to focus on completing it to the best of my ability. I completely trust my pulmonologist and know she would never recommend a CPET if it weren’t safe for me. But I’m still anxious.
Have you had a CPET done? Please share your experience in the comments below.
Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.