Shortness of Breath

What is breathlessness?

Breathlessness is a common and unpleasant symptom and presents as a decreased exercise capacity. Breathing can either be too hard, too fast or just uncomfortable. It generally occurs when the lungs and chest muscles do not reach the body’s oxygen demands. Some people feel short of breath when lying flat (orthopnoea) or awake from sleep breathless (paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnoea).

Shortness of breath needs immediate professional medical diagnosis and treatment. It may indicate numerous severe medical conditions, although there are also various less serious causes of breathlessness.


Breathlessness can be due to heart or lung problems commonly or related to other problems or disorders.

There may be other related symptoms like chest pain, palpitations, ankle swelling or cough which help with diagnosing the cause of the shortness of breath.

Heart Problems

  1. Heart Failure
  2. Fast or Slow Heart Rhythms
  3. Heart Attack
  4. Angina
  5. Valvular Heart Disease
  6. Pericardial Effusion (Fluid around the heart)

Lung Problems

  1. Smoking
  2. Chest infection
  3. Asthma
  4. Chronic Lung Disease
  5. Pneumothorax (Collapsed lung)
  6. Lung Cancer
  7. Pulmonary Embolus (Blood Clot)
  8. Lung Fibrosis

Other causes

  1. Overweight
  2. Stress or anxiety
  3. Pregnancy
  4. Anaemia
  5. Neurological and Muscle Disorders

In general patients who have new onset breathlessness should seek medical advice.

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