When you've overexerted yourself, it's natural to become out of breath, but when it happens abruptly and unexpectedly, it's typically an indication of a medical problem. The majority cases of shortness of breath are caused by heart or respiratory issues. The heart and lungs are important in carrying oxygen to the tissues and removing carbon dioxide.

What is Shortness of Breath?

Shortness of breath also known as Dyspnea is an uncomfortable condition that makes it difficult to get air into the lungs. It can be a sign of various health problems. Breathing disorders can be caused by heart and lung problems. Some people may have short bursts of shortness of breath. Others may have it for a longer period of time.

Shortness of breath arises when the body's ability to breathe does not correspond to the brain's breathing commands. Normally, the airway, lungs, breathing muscles, heart, and blood vessels work together with the brain to maintain sufficient oxygen levels in the body.


Shortness of breath can be caused by a wide variety of medical conditions. These organs are responsible for transporting oxygen throughout the body, which is essential for healthy breathing. Breathlessness can be severe or chronic, lasting more than three to six months.

Conditions that may cause chronic and acute shortness of breath include:


Narrow airways caused due to Asthma can make breathing difficult.

Heart Failure

It occurs when blood cannot properly fill and drain the heart. This illness can cause fluid to build up in the lungs, making breathing difficult.

Lung Disease

It is caused by diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Shortness of breath can also be caused by tumours.


During an allergic reaction, people often experience shortness of breath.


It can lead to hyperventilation (rapid, heavy breathing).


A blockage in the throat can make it difficult for air to flow into and out of the lungs, resulting in choking.

Pulmonary embolism

It occurs when a blood clot forms in the lungs. This is a life-threatening situation.


When a person has shortness of breath, they might feel:

  • Breathlessness
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Unable to breathe deeply
  • Suffocation

Shortness of breath can be either acute or chronic. Acute dyspnea can develop in a matter of minutes or hours. It can occur in conjunction with other symptoms such as fever, rash, or cough. When you have chronic dyspnea, common things like walking from room to room or standing up can make you feel restless.


The doctor may perform one or more of the following diagnostic tests to determine why you are having shortness of breath:

  • Blood Tests: Arterial blood gases and blood oxygen saturation will be measured.
  • Exercise Tests: Blood pressure, heart rate and changes to the breathing rate will be measured during the exercise.
  • Electrocardiogram:ECG and EKG record the electrical activity of the heart.
  • Echocardiogram: Ultrasound waves are used to create a moving image of the heart and heart valves in an "echo."


The doctor will assist you in managing shortness of breath by identifying and addressing the underlying cause of the breathing problems. The treatment may include one or more of the following, depending on the underlying condition:

  • Exercise: Improving overall physical fitness can help the heart and lungs to function better.
  • Medications: In asthma and COPD, inhaled medications called bronchodilators help relax the airways. Breathlessness can be alleviated with pain or anxiety medication.
  • Oxygen Therapy: Extra oxygen delivered through a mask or tube inserted into the nose can help you breathe more comfortably. This is only recommended if a doctor has determined that the blood oxygen level is low.


Follow the steps to prevent shortness of breath:

  • Inhaling chemicals that can irritate the lungs, such as paint fumes and car exhaust, should be avoided.
  • To increase breathing function, practise breathing or relaxation techniques.
  • Quit smoking
  • Maintain healthy weight

When to visit a Doctor?

If you have regular shortness of breath and are awakened at night by shortness of breath, or have wheezing or tightness in the throat, consult a doctor for an assessment.

Shortness of breath might be a sign of a medical emergency that necessitates rapid medical attention. If you still have trouble breathing after 30 minutes of rest, go to the hospital. Also, get emergency support if you have:

  • Blue fingers or lips.
  • Chest pain or heaviness
  • Heart palpitations
  • High fever
  • Stridor
  • Swollen ankles or feet

Breathlessness can be caused by a wide variety of reasons, and the treatment for it will vary depending on the underlying cause. Consider contacting a doctor if the condition persists or if you have other symptoms. They can assist you in finding relief and may recommend treatment for an underlying health problem.

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Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the most common cause of shortness of breath?

The most common cause of shortness of breath are asthma, heart failure, COPD, interstitial lung disease and pneumonia.

2. How do you know if shortness of breath is serious?

Seek for emergency medical care if the shortness of breath is accompanied by chest pain, fainting, nausea and change in mental alertness.

3. Can you be short of breath but oxygen level normal?

Even though oxygen levels are within normal limits, a person may experience shortness of breath. It's vital to remember that dyspnea does not cause suffocation or death. However, if any of these symptoms persist or worsen, contact the healthcare provider immediately.

4. What tests should be done for shortness of breath?

Commonly the tests include blood tests, imaging tests such as a chest X-ray or CT scan, lung function tests or an echocardiogram.