Can depression cause breathing problems?

In this blog, we will answer the question “Can depression cause breathing problems?” and also cover what is depression, what is respiratory depression, the symptoms of respiratory depression, the causes of respiratory depression, what does the research say about this, and also answer frequently asked questions. 

Can depression cause breathing problems?

Yes, as a matter of fact, depression can cause breathing problems as a research study found that people with depression often had a breathing issue related to their sleeping and we will discuss it further in the coming sections. 

What is depression?

Depression is a low mood that lasts weeks or months and interferes with daily activities. Depression can mean being down in the dumps in its mildest form. It can prevent you from going about your daily routine. It makes everything more difficult and less worthwhile. People may feel suicidal in the most extreme cases.

What is respiratory depression? 

Hypoventilation, or respiratory depression, is characterized by a slow, shallow breathing rate. There are a variety of reasons for this, some of which are more problematic than others.

The respiratory drive is controlled by the brain. As a result, anything that affects the central nervous system’s function, including the brain, might lead to respiratory depression.

The person may not notice any symptoms in mild cases. In other situations, they may breathe slowly and shallowly.

Depending on the degree of respiratory depression, oxygen therapy and respiration equipment may be helpful. Respiratory depression, if left untreated, can lead to life-threatening consequences and even death.

Symptoms of respiratory depression

Hypoventilation Symptoms vary based on the severity of the disease. Early signs and symptoms can be vague and minor, such as:

  • Tiredness and lethargy
  • drowsiness during the day
  • Breathing should be slow and shallow.
  • Depression
  • Breathing problems

If the previous signs are ignored, the severity of the illness can worsen, resulting in the following symptoms:

  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Headaches and visual disturbances
  • During exertion and inactivity, you may have laboured breathing.
  • Lips, fingers, and toes that are bluish
  • Increased drowsiness and weariness during the day
  • Having trouble remaining awake and sleeping for long periods of time at night
  • Seizures
  • Apnea is a condition in which there are abnormally long pauses between breaths.
  • Nausea
  • Breathing noises that are unusual
  • Deteriorated consciousness and intellect 

Causes of respiratory depression

Respiratory depression, which affects breathing rate, can be caused by a variety of medical disorders. When this happens, the lungs are unable to adequately ventilate.

  • Neuromuscular Disorders

Even if the neurological breathing impulse is intact, people with neuromuscular problems might experience fast, shallow breathing due to respiratory muscle weakness and poor muscle control.

Ventilation declines during sleep, especially REM sleep, in neuromuscular diseases, leading hypoventilation to increase.

  • Kyphoscoliosis

Chest wall deformities such as kyphoscoliosis and fibrothorax might interfere with proper breathing rate and lung function because of the physical limits produced by the deformities,

  • Obesity

Obesity-hypoventilation syndrome occurs when severe obesity causes hypoventilation in some people (OHS).

Excess weight around the neck, abdomen, and chest wall makes breathing difficult. This disrupts the brain’s respiratory impulse, resulting in an excess of carbon dioxide in the bloodstream but insufficient oxygen.

  • Injuries to the brain

Brain injuries can make it difficult for the brain to control basic activities such as breathing. Hypoventilation can be caused by impaired brainstem reflexes and consciousness following a brain injury. 

  • Sleep Apnea (sleep deprivation)

People with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) have trouble breathing at night because their airways get obstructed or collapse, resulting in hypoventilation.

The airways are not clogged in persons with central sleep apnea (CSA), but there is a halt in breathing caused by an anomaly in the form of the chest wall or their lungs being excessively stiff. Respiratory depression may result as a result of this. 

  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Chronic lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and cystic fibrosis create severely obstructed airways and can result in hypoventilation.

  • Diseases of the Nervous System

Hypoventilation, also known as central alveolar hypoventilation, is a syndrome that affects the central nervous system’s breathing function and is caused by underlying neurological diseases such as cerebrovascular accidents, trauma, head injuries, and aberrant tissue growth.

  • High Ammonia Levels 

The liver’s function is disrupted by genetic abnormalities or acquired liver illness such as cirrhosis, which can raise blood ammonia levels. Hyperammonemia is another name for this condition, which affects respiration and produces respiratory depression.

  • Drugs and Medication

Large doses of some medications and substances can potentially induce or raise the risk of respiratory depression. Hypoventilation is an adverse effect of some drugs.

Some chemicals impair brain function and depress the central nervous system, causing the respiratory urge to slow down.

The following drugs and substances are included in this list:

  • Sedatives
  • Narcotics
  • Opioids
  • Alcohol
  • Barbiturates
  • Benzodiazepines

What does the research say about mental health issues and anxiety? 

The research was conducted by Mai Leander et al on the impact of anxiety and depression on respiratory problems. 

The participants in this study were 2270 people aged 20 to 44 (52 percent of whom were female) from Sweden, Iceland, and Norway. A clinical interview was conducted with each participant, which included questions about respiratory symptoms. Spirometry was used, as well as a methacholine challenge. The Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale was used to assess depression and anxiety symptoms (HADS).

Eighty-two percent of the participants said they had no anxiety or depression, 11 percent said they had anxiety, 2.5 percent said they had depression, and four percent said they had both. All respiratory symptoms, such as wheezing, dyspnea, and nighttime symptoms, were more common in persons with depression and anxiety, at a statistically significant level.

Finally, there is a substantial link between respiratory problems and psychological well-being. As a result, interventional trials to reduce depression and anxiety in people with respiratory diseases are required.

Diagnosis of respiratory depression

It’s critical to see your doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment of respiratory depression.

Your doctor will inquire about your symptoms as well as any current drugs you’re taking. A physical examination and testing will be used by the doctor to make a more specific diagnosis and determine the cause. These tests may involve the following:

  • X-ray of the chest
  • Lung function evaluation
  • Drug tests in the urine and serum
  • Alcohol and other toxin screening

The acid/base ratio, as well as the amount of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the blood, are all measured during a blood gas test. The number of red blood cells available to deliver oxygen is measured by the hematocrit and hemoglobin blood tests.

The oxygen level in your blood is measured via a pulse oximetry test. CT and MRI scans are used to look for strokes and malignancies. A proper sleep study is used to diagnose sleep disorders.

Hypothyroidism, which is a probable cause of obesity and consequently contributes to hypoventilation, can be diagnosed with a thyroid function test.

Electrocardiography (ECG) is a test that can be used to detect indicators of heart strain and other problems.

For disorders such as seizures, head injuries, brain tumors, and epilepsy, an electroencephalogram (EEG) test is used to analyze electrical patterns in the brain.

An ammonia level test is used to assess how much ammonia is present in the blood.

Treatment of respiratory depression

Respiratory depression is treated differently depending on the reason. The main goals of treatment are to repair the underlying problem and improve ventilation.

The following are some of the most prevalent therapies and treatments for respiratory depression:

  • The infusion of oxygen gas to promote breathing is known as oxygen therapy. To keep airways open during sleeping, use a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) or bi-level positive airway pressure (BiPAP) machine.
  • Surgical correction of a chest deformity
  • Surgery and medication are used to help people lose weight.
  • Inhaled medicines are used to open airways and treat lung illness that has progressed.
  • Ventilation using mechanical means
  • Fluid therapy (intravenous or oral)
  • Stopping a medicine that causes hypoventilation can often restore normal breathing.
  • Detoxification is required if an overdose of sedative medications causes respiratory depression. To counteract the effects of the overdose, doctors will prescribe drugs.


Complications can be avoided by sticking to your treatment plan. Breathing problems can have a negative impact on one’s quality of life. Early detection and treatment can help your body maintain a healthy amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide while also reducing the risk of problems.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs): Can depression cause breathing problems?

What is the difference between hypoventilation and hyperventilation? 

Hyperventilation is not the same as hypoventilation. When you breathe too quickly and exhale more than you take in, this is known as hyperventilation.

This causes lower levels of carbon dioxide in the blood, which is the polar opposite of hypoventilation, which occurs when your body is unable to eliminate carbon dioxide adequately.

Can respiratory depression be prevented? 

If you have been diagnosed with respiratory depression, you must get treatment immediately. Hypoventilation, if left untreated, can result in life-threatening health consequences, including death.

All causes of hypoventilation, such as those induced by accidents or abrupt illness, cannot be avoided. However, there are several measures to limit the prevalence of respiratory depression, such as monitoring children who are taking prescription medicine, monitoring those who are taking sedatives and narcotics, avoiding sedatives and narcotics, and avoiding excessive alcohol use.

Respiratory depression might make it difficult to go about your daily routine. However, with early discovery and treatment, the illness can be managed to help you avoid any more health concerns.

Is it possible for respiratory depression to lead to complications?

Hypoventilation, if left untreated, can lead to life-threatening complications, including death.

Respiratory arrest can result from respiratory depression caused by a chemical overdose. This is when breathing stops completely, which can be fatal. Hypoventilation on a regular basis can lead to pulmonary hypertension, which can lead to right-sided heart failure.

Is it possible for emotional stress to produce shortness of breath?

Anxiety’s causes and symptoms differ from person to person, but many people suffer shortness of breath when they are worried. Shortness of breath is a typical anxiety symptom. It can be alarming, like with other anxiety symptoms, but it is ultimately harmless. When the anxiety subsides, it will go away.

What is the best way to get rid of respiratory depression?

Naloxone infusion is presently the only therapy option for reversing opioid respiratory depression. The effectiveness of naloxone is determined by its own pharmacological properties as well as those of the opioid that needs to be reversed (including receptor kinetics).

Where does treatment-resistant depression come from?

TRD is a term used in clinical psychiatry to characterize patients of severe depressive illness that do not respond to traditional therapy (at least two courses of antidepressant treatments). 

Antidepressant medication and/or ‘talk’ therapy (such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) relieve depression symptoms for many people, but treatment-resistant depression sees little to no improvement. Treatment-resistant depression symptoms can range from moderate to severe, and finding what works may need a variety of treatments.


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