Shortness of breath, also called dyspnea, refers to uncomfortable respiratory sensations. Numerous factors may contribute to or cause shortness of breath after eating, including heart problems, digestive problems and anxiety disorders. Shortness of breath may occur on its own, or accompany additional symptoms, such as rapid heart beat, nervousness and chest pain. Since dyspnea may occur as a symptom of a serious or life-threatening illness, prompt medical guidance is important.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
Gastroesophageal reflux disease, often called GERD, is a condition in which the lower esophagus opens too often or fails to close appropriately. This process, known as acid reflux, causes stomach acid and food to regurgitate from the stomach and into the esophagus. When acid reflux occurs more than one to two times per week, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, it indicates GERD. Though symptoms may occur at anytime during the day or night, eating tends to trigger GERD symptoms, including shortness of breath. Additional symptoms may include a tight or burning sensation in the lower chest and/or middle abdomen, hoarseness, dry coughing, trouble swallowing and asthma. Treatment for GERD aims to prevent or alleviate symptoms and often includes lifestyle changes, such as avoiding certain foods, and/or medications.
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The term arrythythmia refers to an irregular heartbeat. Arrythmias are common, often harmless and may produce a myriad of symptoms, according to the American Heart Association, including shortness of breath after eating. While mild arrythmias may produce no observable symptoms, long-lasting or severe arrythmias can also cause shortness of breath at other times, rapid heartbeat, fatigue, chest pain, dizziness and fainting. In some cases, arrythmias lead to cardiac arrest, or stopped heartbeat. Arrythmias may or may not require treatment, which may include medications, surgery and/or altered eating and exercise habits. The main goal of treatment is to prevent serious heart conditions, such as heart attack and stroke.
Anxiety disorders are psychological illnesses characterized by intense fear, paranoia, panic and/or restlessness that detract from a person's ability to function normally. Though symptoms of anxiety disorders, such as panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, phobias and generalized anxiety disorder, vary, shortness of breath and difficulty breathing are common. If a person's anxiety involves food, weight or other dietary issues, meals may trigger shortness of breath and/or other symptoms, such as a rapid heartbeat, dizziness, nausea, chest pain and intense fear. Anxiety disorders often accompany other disorders, such as anorexia, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Anorexia and other mental illnesses, such as depression, bulimia and binge-eating disorder, may increase a person's risk for experiencing shortness of breath after eating. Treatment for anxiety disorders varies and may include individual counseling, medications and/or alternative therapies, such as meditation or massage.
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.