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What is Shortness of Breath?

Shortness of breath, also known as dyspnea, is discomfort or difficulty in breathing or the inability to get enough air to breathe. It can occur suddenly or gradually over a period of time and can be classified into acute or chronic shortness of breath respectively.

What are the Causes of Shortness of Breath?

The most common causes of shortness of breath are associated with heart and lung conditions and may include:

  • Asthma
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) flare-up
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Allergies to pollen, dust, or mold
  • Anemia
  • Pneumonia
  • Low blood pressure
  • Croup
  • Upper airway obstruction
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Pulmonary hypertension
  • Pleurisy
  • Abnormal heartbeats
  • Enlarged heart
  • Heart failure
  • Heart attack

What are the Symptoms Associated with Shortness of Breath?

Picture of Shortness of Breath

Symptoms of shortness of breath that require attention by your physician include:

  • Difficulty breathing when lying flat or with mild activities like walking, climbing stairs, etc
  • Breathlessness that does not go away even after resting for 30 minutes
  • Chills, high fever, and cough
  • Bluish coloration of lips or fingertips
  • Wheezing – an abnormal whistling sound that occurs on breathing
  • Stridor – a high-pitched noise that occurs on breathing
  • Swelling of feet and ankles
  • Chest pain or chest tightness
  • Abnormal heart rate
  • Profuse sweating, exhaustion, or dizziness

What are the Risk Factors of Shortness of Breath?

Some of the commonly known risk factors for shortness of breath may include:

  • Chronic lung or heart condition
  • Exposure to asthma triggers
  • Obesity
  • Low hemoglobin level
  • Muscle weakness
  • Constant stress
  • Smoking
  • Not physically fit due to illness or lack of exercise

How is Shortness of Breath Diagnosed?

To determine the underlying cause of your shortness of breath, your doctor will review your symptoms and medical history, perform a physical examination, and may recommend certain diagnostic tests for further verification, including:

  • Pulmonary function tests
  • Chest x-ray
  • Blood tests
  • CT scan
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)
  • Echocardiogram
  • Exercise stress test

How is Shortness of Breath Treated?

Treatment options for shortness of breath is dependent upon the underlying cause and includes:

  • Lifestyle changes, such as refraining from smoking
  • Avoiding asthma triggers, such as pollen, dust mites, animal dander
  • Stress reduction through exercise, meditation, etc
  • Oxygen therapy or pulmonary rehabilitation program
  • Bronchodilators to relax airways
  • Breathing techniques
  • Medications
  • Weight management

How Can You Prevent Shortness of Breath?

Things you can do to prevent and manage shortness of breath include:

  • Getting a routine health checkup
  • Following action plan developed by your physician
  • Adhering to prescribed medications regularly
  • Following a healthy lifestyle by avoiding risk factors associated with shortness of breath such as smoking
  • Avoiding exposure to pollutants in the air, indoors and outdoors
  • Speaking to your doctor to get acquainted with concerns, worries, or queries related to shortness of breath

Other Heart And Lung Disease Management Topics

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