Short of Breath After Eating

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Dear COPD Coach,

Why do I feel so short of breath after eating? More than a few times after eating out, I was so short of breath I could barely walk to my car. I love good food, but I am beginning to feel that it isn’t worth the pain of not being able to breathe.

-Breathless

Dear Breathless,

Feeling bloated or out of breath after a large meal is not uncommon with people who have COPD. There are actually a couple reasons why this occurs. When we eat a large meal we require more energy to digest what we eat and experience more pressure on our chest and diaphragm. The result is we experience shortness of breath.

For many, COPD causes our lungs to become hyper-inflated, which means they take up more room in our chest. This results when air gets trapped in damaged areas of the lungs. When our stomach is filled, it can actually push against the lungs causing us to feel out of breath.

So, what is the answer? It is really quite sensible. Eat several small meals throughout the day. If you are at or below ideal body weight, eat foods that are high in calories. Avoid salt as much as possible since salt can cause you to retain fluid, feel bloated, and increase the workload on your heart. Avoid simple carbohydrates as these cause CO2 build-up in your blood causing less available oxygen. If you do eat foods containing carbohydrates, keep to complex carbohydrates like those found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grain bread.

For some individuals with COPD, the simple act of breathing takes more calories than what we are able to take in. The result of this is either chronic weight loss or the inability to gain weight. People experiencing this should eat snacks loaded in calories. While not considered healthy for “normal” people, these foods might be something like pudding made with whole milk, cheese that is not “reduced” or “low fat,” eggs, and buttered popcorn. If eating dairy foods (a problem for some with COPD as they can result in more mucus) drink plenty of water afterwards. Fried, greasy and spicy foods, carbonated soft drinks, and certain vegetables can also cause bloating.

If you require oxygen, be sure to use it while eating. This will help you get less short of breath and also aid digestion.

If you still want to go out and have a nice meal, here are some tips that will make your meal easier and more comfortable:

  • Restrict foods that can cause bloating like raw fruits and vegetables.
  • Try to eat foods that you don’t have to chew as much like mashed potatoes or soup.
  • Eat slowly, taking time between bites.
  • Don’t rush off after you eat. Take some time to not only digest, but also to enjoy the company and the experience.
  • Once again, if you use supplemental oxygen, make sure you use it when you are eating!

There is no reason a person with COPD cannot go out and enjoy a meal with family or friends. Be sensible, allow yourself plenty of time, and have a great time!

-The COPD Coach

Ask the Expert is aimed at providing information for individuals with COPD to take to your doctor, and is not in any way intended to be medical advice. If you would like to submit a question to the Coaches Corner email us at coachescorner@copdfoundation.org. We would love to hear your questions and comments. You can address your emails to any of the following: COPD Coach, Caregiver Coach, COPD Doctor or COPD RT.

24 Comments



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  • This was very informative. I have always noticed that I feel short of breath after meals too and wondered if it was because I was not breathing while chewing, I have never really liked carbonated drinks so going to keep these tips in mind.
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  • I've been doing totally opposite of this article lately and feeling the effects. Im Going to follow some of this good advice!
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  • Thanks for the tip, I get bloated when I eat me. I feel great when I eat soup..It's music to the stomach.
    Especially the creams..
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    • Watch the salt. Canned soups have loads of salt.
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  • Great advice. I have been struggling with this. I now wear 02 while eating and it helps. It seems like my food goes down easier too.
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  • Good information..

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  • This information makes me feel better, I've been wondering why I can't seem to eat much anymore and this gives helpful information about what to eat

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    • Can anyone using Oxygen,please share your diets..e.g. I love sandwiches,with lettuce tomato,o noon,cheese,hot pepper,on toast with Mao& lime,or miracle whip..very filling,problem is bloating immediately after..
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    • In answer to Whylene McCray's reply to Joybhere: I don't use oxygen, however, I found that eating sandwiches made with bread (doesn't matter what kind of bread - whole wheat, rye, etc.), is a cause of the bloated feeling. I now use flour or corn tortillas instead of bread for making sandwiches, even though I'm not fond of "sandwich wrap" style sandwiches. Alternately, if I do use bread for a sandwich, I only eat half of the sandwich, and save half for another meal.

      Reply
  • Very informative article, thank you. My husband's appetite has been decreasing over the past year, I thought it might be partly his age (76) but now I can see it isn't just that. He has been asking for soup for dinner recently, followed by a cup of tea. He used to eat 3 rounds (six slices) of sandwiches until a few months ago, but now can barely get through 2 rounds.
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    • thank you for this information. my mom is around 71 and stage 4 COPD. and she doesn't eat as much in one meal due to what im guessing from the chat is the energy on chewing, swallowing, and my mom's full stomach feeling. but my mom's stomach has been like this for mths(still doing tests on her). glad I read that carbs will slow the oxygen down so if she eats cake, bread, it is not good for her. will slow the oxygen down (?)
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  • I would just like to say that eating and swallowing uses muscles that need oxygen so >>> Once again, if you use supplemental oxygen, make sure you use it when you are eating! >>> and try raising you O2 to a higher dose before starting your food to compensate the O2 you need when chewing and swallowing etc >>>> it works for my wife on Stage 4 COPD >>> UK Mike
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    • Mike , I keep mine on 2, Again I am going to listen to you and move it up when I eat to . Give your wife my best. You two are so blessed to have each other. I have a new prescription of Anora, it has never been used, I had tried it up North and for me my digestive system didn't seem to agree with it. After 2 weeks of nothing moving out of my Intestine track , I am not going to use it. Is their a place that could take it and give to someone who needs it?
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    • thank you for posting. I gave this info to my father and mother(COPD stage 4). my mother has problems with chewing swallowing and teeth etc, but I didn't know it was because of energy to chew and swallow and using oxygen of those muscles. it makes sense after I read this. I also read COPD patients can't eat fast. Also i read their hot meal can go cold, because they can't eat fast. so it is common to reheat or keep food on a hot plate, for any COPD patient or elderly person, who has to take time in chewing and swallowing. I've been looking for a oroduct that can keep meal hot in her room, instead of using a harmful microwave(radiation and carcinogenic to food). I read that microwave oven is really bad to use for food and takes nutrients out and
      can make you tired, and known to release certain carcinogen into the food! we use microwave for reheating sometimes with coffee tea meal, but not good, trying to use it less. it's better to reheat on stove or oven.
      Reply
  • My husband's appetite has returned which is just as well, as he has lost 10 kg in six months. We've been told that emphysema will do that in its final stages, the weight just drops off. It is a waiting game now.
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    • sorry to hear the weight loss. my mother loss slot of weight, and at one point was told underweight malnutrition. We got her weight back up to a better number, with a hospital stay and time. As well as then certain small meals, protein drinks, at home. nursing services at home during week, COPD stage 4. she also had pneumonia few times past 3 years so not sure if that added to the drop of weight loss. also the breathing takes up energy in everything, breathing, eating, talking, etc.
      Reply
  • Great info, everyday is a learning experience and this site is so wonderful!
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  • One thing to avoid is carbonated beverages, like soda and adult beverages like beer. Doing that not only avoids that bloated feeling, but is probably good for overall health, IMO.
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    • true. told mother to not drink ginger ale like she used to. it has high fructose corn syrup in it, which gives mucus. on the news it showed companies have been making food with no high fructose corn syrup, past few years, due to finding out it causes cancer over time! please be aware that ensure drink has high fructose corn syrup and my mother doesn't drink as much now because of the mucus build up and milk in it. milk for some can make more mucus. I don't know how doctors can give ensure drink to COPD and elderly with the high fructose, sucrolose, carrageenan-all bade for you! high fructose and carrageenan-all known to cause cancer. you can find carageenan in certain brands of cottage cheese, yogurt, butter, soda, etc. they make high protein shakes, nutritional shakes without the high fructose, sucralose carageenan. you have to look at ingredients.
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  • thank you.
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  • some people can have gluten sensitivity and soy sensitivity. you can be allergic when eating wheat, gluten, white flour bread, rye, soy beans, soy bread, soy sauce, soy yogurt, etc. you can only eat gluten free bread( made of rice, corn, millet, barley, etc). the "gluten" can make you feel really bloated, full, nausea, and even a slight temperature. also a person can have Celiac disease, which is gluten sensitive and soy sensitive. soy can make you feel bloated, full stomach. I think anyone with COPD having stomach problems aside from eating small meals vs large, that they should try not eating gluten for a few days to see if it helps. unfortunately many soups have gluten and soy, but they make ones that are gluten free. they make yogurt with almond milk, coconut, cashew, as alternatives to soy and regular milk. I had my mother try a vanilla almond milk yogurt and she liked it, with no bloated feeling. some seniors are very used to eating certain foods and don't want to try something new or different from their routine. Or eating organic. Some seniors say the taste for some organic food is not as good as the unhealthy, fructose food item. I think organic is better than non organic for food, because of pesticides. This is another reason a COPD person could have a stomach problem. The foods today" have pesticides" on them, that will affect the stomach to react, and can cause full, bloated, nausea too, and can create other health problems. Also allergies to food. Good to get allergy test for foods. In my opinion, trying organic is better for your health, and they have same prices as non. And the water you drink also important. glass bottle better than plastic. getting a filter on faucet. Dr Mercola uses and recommends a home filter system, to connect under your kitchen sink from Costco, that filters chemicals, bacteria, and does "reverse osmosis" to clean water. he said he saves money vs buying bottled water. I started trying mineral water which has high calcium , magnesium, and other minerals that bottled water and tap water doesn't have . mineral water comes in still or carbonated. there are many from Italy , France, Germany, Spain, etc. they supposedly come from natural springs and flow on rocks from under the ground. Gerolsteiner I think has the highest of minerals and calcium/magnesium. they make flavored also. I read its healthier than water. Also bottled water with high PH level andr electrolytes is good for hydration. coconut water has higher hydration than water. And watermelon is made up of 90%water and is good aganist prostate cancer.
    Reply
  • I have had asthma my whole life but about 5 years ago my asthma got so bad and I was diagnosed with emphysema/COPD which was most likely due to the asthma. I was on double antibiotics and steroids, still didn't feel any better. I already used Advair, Spiriva, and albuterol in my nebulizer, they just didn't do much. It was awful for me due to the difficulty in breathing, nothing gave me better relief from the severe breathlessness and Wheezing till i started on this COPD Herbal from Organic Herbal Clinic ( w ww.organicherbalclinic.c om )Its been 4 months since i completed the Emphysema Herbal Formula, all my symptoms are gone including constant coughing, i breath very much easier and can never be thankful enough to nature
    Reply
  • I have dealt with the breathlessness after eating. But, lately when I eat, about 15 minutes afterwards I get extremely weak and fatigued. I hardly have enough energy to do anything. I first thought it was from eating too much, but it happens just the same when I eat a simple sandwich.
    Reply

  • I smoked and had no clue what was silently happening to my lungs. I know, sounds ridiculous. But I had no symptoms whatsoever in all that time. I did not cough or have shortness of breath. Then suddenly I became quite ill and was hospitalised. I was stunned to find that I had stage 4 Emphysema. A friend of mine introduced me to a doctor called DR JOE, BEST HEALTH HERBAL CENTRE owner (ww w. besthealthherbalcentre. co m) who sent me herbal medicines which he prepared for me, and my life got transformed and everything was fine and okay with me. Difficulty catching a deep breath stop completely and my lungs function is back to normal.
    Reply

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