General Warnings

What Drugs Cause Shortness of Breath?

Few sensations are as frightening as not being able to get enough air. Shortness of breath known medically as dyspnea is often described as an intense tightening in the chest, air hunger, difficulty breathing, breathlessness or a feeling of suffocation.

When you’re short of breath, you might feel like you can’t get enough air into your lungs — and you can’t do it quickly enough.

It may seem as though you’re running short on oxygen. It may be more difficult to inhale and exhale. Sometimes you might be compelled to draw a breath before you’ve even finished the last exhale.

Symptoms that appear with shortness of breath include:

•          a tight sensation in your chest

•          feeling like you need to breathe more or more quickly

•          feeling like your body can’t get enough oxygen quickly enough

You might notice yourself becoming increasingly short of breath over a long period of time, or it could happen out of the blue.

What medications cause shortness of breath?

Medications that can cause shortness of breath include:

ACE inhibitors: ACE inhibitors are one class of antihypertensives. ACE stands for angiotensin-converting enzyme. These medications lower blood pressure by encouraging the blood vessels to relax and open. ACE inhibitor like Lisinopril (Prinivil, Zestril) can cause shortness of breath. Examples of other ACE inhibitors include enalapril (Vasotec), and benazepril (Lotensin).

NSAIDs: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are medicines that are widely used to relieve pain, reduce inflammation, and bring down a high temperature. They’re often used to relieve symptoms of headaches, painful periods, sprains and strains, colds and flu, arthritis, and other causes of long-term pain. These drugs can cause symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath or trouble breathing, weakness in one part or side of their body, or slurred speech. Ibuprofen for example can also worsen asthma symptoms by causing the airways to narrow in a condition known as bronchospasm.

Anticonvulsants: Anticonvulsants are a diverse group of pharmacological agents used in the treatment of epileptic seizures. Anticonvulsants are also increasingly being used in the treatment of bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder, since many seem to act as mood stabilizers, and for the treatment of neuropathic pain. Anticonvulsant like gabapentin can cause breathing problems, which if severe may need emergency and intensive care.

Beta blockers: Cause the heart to slow down and so some of their side effects can be traced to that mechanism of action. Dizziness, weakness, fatigue, and fainting are possible. Beta-blockers also affect the respiratory system, so other side effects include shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, and chest pain. Example of this class of medication include: Atenolol (Tenormin), Bisoprolol (Zebeta), Metoprolol (Lopressor, Toprol XL), Nadolol (Corgard), Nebivolol (Bystolic) and Propranolol (Inderal, InnoPran XL).

Calcium channel Blockers: Calcium channel blockers, calcium channel antagonists or calcium antagonists are a group of medications that disrupt the movement of calcium through calcium channels. Calcium channel blockers lower your blood pressure by preventing calcium from entering the cells of your heart and arteries. Calcium causes the heart and arteries to contract more strongly. By blocking calcium, calcium channel blockers allow blood vessels to relax and open. However, Shortness of breath, dizziness, fast or irregular heart beat, flushing, and wheezing have also been reported among users of this class of medication. Examples of calcium channel blockers include: Amlodipine (Norvasc), Diltiazem (Cardizem, Tiazac, others), Felodipine, Nifedipine (Adalat CC, Procardia), Nisoldipine (Sular) and Verapamil (Calan, Verelan).

Cholinergics: Cholinergic medications are a category of pharmaceutical agents that act upon the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, the primary neurotransmitter within the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). This medicines may cause paradoxical bronchospasm, which means your breathing or wheezing will get worse. This may be life-threatening. 

Antibiotics: Antibiotics are medicines that fight certain infections and can save lives when used properly. They either stop bacteria from reproducing or destroy them. Antibiotic Allergies can cause severe allergic reaction, called anaphylaxis. This is a life-threatening medical emergency that requires immediate medical attention. Anaphylactic reactions due to antibiotics may include: Shortness of breath.

Antifungals: An antifungal medication, also known as an antimycotic medication, is a pharmaceutical fungicide or fungistatic used to treat and prevent mycosis such as athlete’s foot, ringworm, candidiasis (thrush), serious systemic infections such as cryptococcal meningitis, and others. Anti fungal medication like fluconazole can cause allergic reaction which can make breathing difficult.

Antiretrovirals: Antiretroviral therapy reduces the amount of HIV in the body. When a person takes them consistently, antiretroviral drugs are very effective at limiting the impact of the virus. Today, more than 40 antiretroviral drugs are approved to treat HIV. However some of them can cause Shortness of breath.

Digoxin: Digoxin is a type of medicine called a cardiac glycoside. It’s used to control some heart problems, such as irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias) including atrial fibrillation. It can also help to manage the symptoms of heart failure, usually with other medicines. If you have too much digoxin in your blood, it can lead to fast heart rate (palpitations), shortness of breath, dizziness or lightheadedness and sweating.

Interferon, and chemotherapy agents: Interferons are man-made versions of proteins your body makes. These drugs work with your immune system to help it find and attack viruses and cancer. They can stop virus and cancer cells from growing and spreading, and prevent other cells from getting infected. A common side effect of interferon is breathlessness and pale skin.


Shortness of breath can also be caused by substances such as cocaine, codeine, heroin, methadone, and propoxyphene.

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