Shortness of breath can be a symptom of myriad conditions, and identifying the underlying cause isn’t always clear-cut. To aid in this process and speed the time to treatment, the Cooper Breathing Center offers a one-stop multidisciplinary resource for accurate, timely diagnosis and treatment planning.
“We’re the only comprehensive center in South Jersey focused on why someone has shortness of breath,” says the Center’s Director Melvin R. Pratter, MD, FCCP, FACP. He heads a team of six pulmonologists who utilize today’s most advanced diagnostic modalities including cardiopulmonary exercise testing, bronchoscopy and other interventional pulmonary proce du re s, a nd a state-of-the-art sleep lab – a l l conveniently located on site.
In fact, Dr. Pratter and his colleagues have set the standard in how to diagnose a patient who presents with shortness of breath, publishing two research studies that show a systematic algorithmic approach is the most efficient – and ensures the most appropriate utilization of resources.
“Our approach emphasizes using the minimum number of carefully selected tests, moving from the simplest to the more complex,” he explains. “If the patient can be diagnosed with simple analysis, no further tests are needed. If not, it’s a systematic progression, with more complicated, invasive tests used only if preliminary testing indicates they’re required.
“As a result of this focused approach, we make diagnoses in 99 percent of cases with fewer tests,” he adds.
Another strength of the Center is its close collaboration with other Cooper specialists.
“Even though we’re all pulmonologists, we don’t approach a diagnosis strictly from that point of view,” Dr. Pratter notes. “We really take a holistic approach.
“In many cases, shortness of breath might indicate a heart problem or something else outside the lungs,” he continues. “So instead of doing what most pulmonologists do an exhaustive workup in their own specialty then, when nothing is found, referring the patient to another specialist for yet more tests – our evaluation isn’t complete until we have a diagnosis. “The most common causes of shortness of breath relate to
the lungs and heart, so we work closely with cardiologists and radiologists [on imaging studies],” he says. “But if other tests or expertise are needed, we have it all here at Cooper, and we’re used to doing this together.”
In fact, he notes, it’s not uncommon for there to be more than one underlying cause of a patient’s shortness of breath – underscoring the advantage of Cooper’s multidisciplinary collaborative approach to diagnosis.
“We do a lot of communicating in person, by phone and by sharing records,” Dr. Pratter says. “Everything one specialist is doing is transparent and available to everyone involved.”
In addition to lung diseases such as COPD, asthma, asbestos, and cancer, and heart and vascular disease, other underlying causes of shortness of breath may include obesity, allergies, anxiety, airway obstruction, disorders affecting breathing nerves and muscles, disorders of the blood and metabolism, restriction of chest volume due to such conditions as scoliosis, and certain medications.
When the reason for a patient’s dyspnea is not clear-cut, Dr. Pratter urges physicians to refer to the Cooper Breathing Center.
“We have both clinical and research capabilities here,” he says. “We have enormous experience doing this. And patients can be seen the same week they call.” n