Yawning is often a mild characteristic of sleeplessness and fatigue. But when this semi-involuntary reflex becomes chronic because of a continual shortness of breath, it may be cause for concern. Excessive yawning may be a symptom of a number of adverse conditions, some more serious than others.
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Excessive yawning can be indicative of a serious disorder known as aortic dissection, a potentially fatal condition characterized by arterial bleeding, specifically in the heart. According to the UCSF Department of Health, aortic dissection is often marked by abrupt, sudden pains in the chest and irregular heartbeat, in addition to chronic yawning.
Obesity applies to the condition of a person who is at least 100 pounds overweight because of a surplus of fat. Obesity and excessive yawning can go hand-in-in hand; increased stores of fat can lead to circulatory restriction that inhibits the flow of oxygen. An obese individual will often also find deep breathing a chore because of impaction of the lungs, heart and other vital organs. This can lead to a condition known as obesity hypoventilation syndrome, a disorder that can cause insomnia, loss of focus and depression.
Drs. Allison Ashe and Jon Mason say trauma to the brain can cause repetitive respiratory reflexes. If other symptoms of head injury such as sudden change in mood, headaches or dizziness accompany chronic yawning, it may be appropriate to seek the advice of a doctor. Left untreated, post-traumatic head injury can lead to stroke, seizures, coma or death.
Sleep apnea is when a sufferer ceases breathe for prolonged periods during sleep, and the respiration that does occur is often extremely shallow. This pattern depletes blood oxygen stores, causing the sufferer to supplement the deficiency with repetitive yawning while awake. Left undiagnosed and untreated, sleep apnea can be fatal. If excessive yawning parallels other symptoms, such as heartburn and inordinate sweating during sleep, apnea may be the underlying cause, and a you should seek the help of a medical professional.