Why do I get shortness of breath?

Shortness of breath is a symptom with a great many possible causes.

Difficulty in breathing, also known as shortness of breath or dyspnea, could be a marker of significant cardiovascular or pulmonary disease. People describe a sensation of not being able to get enough air, or sometimes as a feeling of suffocation, or chest tightness. This could be exacerbated by activities such as exercise.

Although shortness of breath could be due to a variety of causes, some common cardiac conditions include possible heart failure, coronary artery disease, arrhythmias, mitral regurgitation or aortic stenosis.

It is important to see a cardiologist to workup the possibility of structural heart abnormalities that might be the cause of these symptoms.

If the shortness of breath is prolonged and persistent, it is likely to be related to a medical condition. If it is sudden and severe in intensity, even if it is of short duration, however, it may warrant medical evaluation.

Other possible causes of shortness of breath include:

  • Overexertion
  • Severe anxiety or panic attack
  • A blocked airway
  • Reaction to environmental allergens or pollutants
  • Lung disease
  • Hypertension or hypotension
  • Traumatic injury
  • Hormonal or enzyme imbalances

If shortness of breath is due to the congestion associated with an upper-respiratory infection, it usually resolves on its own in a matter of days, though bacterial infections may require the administration of an antibiotic. Obesity can be an exacerbating factor in shortness of breath.

How is Shortness of Breath diagnosed?

After obtaining a detailed history, the doctor will perform a thorough physical examination. If indicated, diagnostic testing might be considered.

The basic evaluation will include an ECG (Electrocardiogram, EKG) and/or chest x-ray. Further testing with echocardiogram will help measure and identify the strength of the heart as well as possible structural heart abnormalities that might be causing the shortness of breath. A stress test can identify the existence of a significant blockage in the arteries of the heart (coronary artery disease).

Treatment will depend on the cause of the underlying condition and is tailored to individual needs.

This article is intended to inform and give insight but not treat, diagnose or replace the advice of a doctor. Always seek medical advice with any questions regarding a medical condition.