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Respiratory Therapist/shortness of breath


i've been having breathing problems for the past few weeks and i want to know what's causing it.  first of all i have sleep apnea, weigh 355 pounds and i'm 6ft tall. i am also bipolar and take lithium for this condition. i was wondering since lithium is a salt and salt causes water retention, could i possible have an edema in and around the lung area. if so, how do you treat such a condition. is edema linked to shortness of breath? by the way i also take ziac and lisinopril for high blood pressure.

Hi Christopher,

Thanks for trusting me with your personal medical question today.  First things first, do you have allergies or had allergies in the past?  Late summer/early Fall is prime time for allergies to flare up, so this is always possible source for breathing difficulties...although Arizona is generally dry and not really a "hotbed" of allergens. Have you had any recent (last 6 months) weight gain? If so, increased weight gain causes many other related medical issues.  Take into account that you are morbidly obese and have hypertension, which is likely a side affect of your obesity and sleep apnea.  The more central (hips to collarbones) body weight you have, the more chance that your excess weight is crowding your lungs and causing shortness of breath.  This chart ( tells you what your ideal body weight should be (164-188 lbs), and by all accounts, you are about 175 pounds overweight. As a clinician, I would fully expect you to experience REGULAR bouts of trouble breathing, as your body has to work extra hard to carry out tasks throughout the day.

That being said, the Lithium is likely NOT the source of your shortness of breath.
Though it might be worth talking to your doctor about having your thyroid function checked and also seeking information on a healthy diet and exercise regime so that you can counter any weight gain due to medication. It may be that you have to just stay with your current dose of medication whilst things level themselves out. But in relation to your actual shortness of breath, there are far too many things that present themselves that may be contributing to your shortness of breath.  As your weight comes down, you will find you will be less and less short of breath.

Always consult your physician before embarking on a diet or exercise plan; he/she may have specific recommendations that will help you reach your goals. Never change the dosage or stop taking your medication without consulting your doctor. It may trigger a depressive or manic episode. Avoid over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen and naproxen; they may increase the level of lithium in your body. Lithium may cause light sensitivity; use sunscreens and dark sunglasses to protect your skin and eyes from the sun.

I hope some of this information has been helpful.

Best of health to you!

Larry, RRT

Respiratory Therapist

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Larry W. Wical, BA-RRT


I CAN answer: ALL questions and queries related to the following topics... - Oxygen - Asthma - COPD - Bronchitis - Emphysema - Pneumonia (Viral/Bacterial) - Tuberculosis (TB) - SARS - Influenza (Flu) - Vaccines - Pulmonary Embolism - Pleural Effusion - Atelectasis - Inhalation injuries (burns, chemicals, etc.) - PFTs - Cardiovascular health - Sleep Apnea - BiPap/CPAP - Ventilators ("Respirators") - Aspiration injuries - Thoracic injuries - Lung contusions - Tracheal injuries - Artificial Tracheostomy - Secretions - Prolotherapy/Regenerative Injection Therapy (RIT): A patient's experience/perspective - General health and fitness I CANNOT answer: Questions that vary too far from my primary scope of pulmonary and cardiovascular care and fitness. I promise to be open and honest about my knowledge of submitted topics, and will always openly provide my personal as well as professional feedback as it relates.


Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT, RCP) since 2005. I have worked primarily in the acute care, critical care, burn care and home care settings.

NBRC - National Board of Respiratory Care AARC - American Association of Respiratory Care

-All About Kids Magazine -The Clermont Sun -Cincy Sports & Fitness Magazine -Many online Fitness and Health blogs and "webazines"

- B.A. in Communication (1997) - A.A.S. in Respiratory Science (2005) - RRT license (state of OH, KY and IN) - Basic Life Saving (BLS) - Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS) - Advanced Burn Life Support (ABLS)

Past/Present Clients
Currently work in the city's largest academic/research hospital.

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