Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath (also called dyspnea) can sometimes be harmless as the result of exercise or nasal congestion. In other situations, it may be a sign of a more serious heart or lung disease.
In order to uncover the reason you may be experiencing shortness of breath, your doctor may request one or more of the following diagnostic tests:
- Physical exam. Your physician will review patient history and symptoms. The diagnosis will sometimes be made immediately by a doctor or emergency response technician but frequently requires further blood tests to confirm.
- Blood tests. Arterial blood gases and blood oxygen saturation may be measured.
- Exercise tests. Blood pressure, heart rate and changes to breathing rate can be measured during exercise and at rest.
- Electrocardiogram. An ECG or EKG records the electrical activity of the heart and shows abnormal rhythms (arrhythmias or dysrhythmias).
- Ambulatory cardiac monitoring. A Holter monitor may be used for 24 hours. Other monitors may be worn in excess of two weeks.
- Echocardiogram. An "echo" uses ultrasound waves to produce a moving picture of the heart and heart valves.
- Chest X-ray. An X-ray will help assess lung condition.
- CT scan of the chest.