A Answers (5)
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.
There are many causes for shortness of breath, from the benign and temporary to the more serious that may include:
- Heart disease or heart attack (in this case, shortness of breath may be accompanied by swelling of the feet/ankles)
- Lung disease
- Pneumonia (breathlessness often accompanied by high fever, cough and mucus)
- Asthma or allergies
- Anemia (other symptoms characterized by fatigue and pale skin color)
- Panic attacks
- Airway obstructions, exposure to cigarette smoke or extreme exposure to dust or fumes
- Obesity or lack of exercise
- High altitudes
- Blood flow disruption in getting oxygen to the brain
- Intense emotional anxiety or stress
When breathlessness is accompanied by chest pressure, tingling in the hands or around the mouth, the cause may be hyperventilation, an episode of over breathing from exercise or emotional stress. Hyperventilation can be brought under control by breathing into a paper bag until the episode passes, usually in less than 15 minutes.
Dyspnea is difficult or labored breathing, often caused by heart conditions. Two types of dyspnea are significant in cardiac illness. Dyspnea on exertion (DOE) is the shortness of breath that occurs with increasing activity. Paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea (PND) is a shortness of breath that awakens a person at night from sleep. Both are significant symptoms in cardiac disease
Shortness of breath or dyspnea is a feeling of breathlessness or a sense of getting “not enough air” out of proportion to activity. Shortness of breath that is experienced when you are at rest or with little physical activity is not normal and should be brought to the immediate attention of your physician. There are many causes of dyspnea, and the specific one must be clarified.
Tests will be ordered after your discussion and physical examination by your doctor. These tests may include a chest X ray, tests of lung function, and measurement of oxygen levels in the blood, if lung disease is suspected. Other tests may be ordered to evaluate possible heart disease, including electrocardiogram.
Dyspnea (shortness of breath) can be caused by many conditions, including:
- chronic bronchitis
- chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- congestive heart failure
- diastolic dysfunction
- neuromuscular conditions
- pulmonary edema
- pulmonary fibrosis
- pulmonary hypertension
- ventricular dysfunction
One of the most common complaints with aging is shortness of breath; much of this is caused by changes in the elasticity of the lung (so it takes more effort to bring in air) and by physiological changes in your lungs that make breathing harder. Much of this happens because of the toxins in our environment, like secondhand smoke and pollution, which pass into us most easily in the air we breathe at a rate of several liters per minute.
The rate of aging of the lungs is, in fact, greater than the aging of the heart. So while some shortness of breath is associated with cardiac troubles, that's not always the case—and breathing problems can indeed originate from the lungs.
This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.