Shortness of Breath
If you are having any symptoms or have any questions, please call 811 to speak with a registered nurse 24 hours a day.
What is shortness of breath?
When you are short of breath, you may feel like you can’t get enough air or your chest may feel tight. Sometimes the feeling is worse when you are physically active or when you lie down flat. You may have other symptoms such as a cough, chest pains or a fever. If you are experiencing any of these problems, tell your healthcare provider.
CAUSES & RISK FACTORS
What could be causing my shortness of breath?
Shortness of breath can be caused by many things, including the following:
- Other lung diseases, including emphysema (say: “em-fa-see-ma”), which is a lung disease that is most often caused
- by smoking
- Heart failure
- Panic attacks
If you are short of breath with a cough and/or fever, you may have a chest infection or pneumonia (say: “new-moanyuh”).
Less common causes of breathing problems are lung cancer, a blood clot in the lungs, air leakage around the lungs and scarring of the lung tissue.
DIAGNOSIS & TESTS
What tests will my healthcare provider perform?
Your healthcare provider can help find the cause of your breathing problem by asking you questions about your symptoms and performing a physical exam. Your healthcare provider also may order some tests.
To find the cause of your shortness of breath, your healthcare provider may order a chest X-ray. They may also order an electrocardiogram (also called an ECG). During this test, your healthcare provider will have you lie down so your heart can be monitored. The ECG machine creates a picture, or tracing, that shows your heart’s electrical signals. You may need to have a computerized tomography (CT) scan, which is another type of X-ray. Your healthcare provider may measure the strength of your breathing (called a spirometer) and the oxygen level in your blood. You also may need to have a blood test.
What can I do to improve my breathing?
Your healthcare provider will treat the cause of your breathing problem. To help your treatment, if you smoke, you need to stop. Ask your healthcare provider for help. Also, avoid breathing chemicals that can bother your lungs, such as fumes from paint and car exhaust. If your healthcare provider says it’s okay, you should try to get plenty of exercise.
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
- What is the likely cause of my shortness of breath?
- Do I need any tests to help determine the cause of my shortness of breath?
- Is shortness of breath a sign of a more serious problem?
- Is it safe for me to exercise? What kind of exercise can I do?
- Based on the cause of my shortness of breath, what’s the best treatment option?
- What lifestyle changes can I make at home to help relieve my symptoms?
Evaluation of Chronic Dyspnea by NG Karnani, GM Reisfield, GR Wilson (04/15/05, http://www.aafp.org/afp/20050415/1529.html)