Shortness of breath; Breathlessness; Difficulty breathing; Dyspnea
Breathing difficulty involves a sensation of difficult or uncomfortable breathing or a feeling of not getting enough air.
See also: Difficulty breathing - first aid
No standard definition exists for difficulty breathing. Some people may feel breathless with only mild exercise (for example, climbing stairs), even though they do not have a medical condition. Others may have advanced lung disease but never feel short of breath.
Wheezing is one form of breathing difficulty in which you make a high-pitched sound when you breathe out.
Click here to see a video about wheezing.
Shortness of breath has many different causes:
The following problems may cause breathing difficulty:
Problems with the lungs:
Problems with the airways leading to the lungs:
Problems with the heart:
Sometimes, a small amount of breathing difficulty may be normal, and is not cause for concern. Severe nasal congestion is one example. Strenuous exercise, especially when you do not exercise often, is another example.
If breathing difficulty is new or is getting worse, it may be due to a serious problem. Though many causes are not dangerous and are easily treated, call your health care provider for any breathing difficulty.
If you are being treated for a long-term problem with your lungs or heart, follow your health care provider's directions to help with that problem.
Go to the emergency room or call the local emergency number (such as 911) if:
See your health care provider if breathing difficulty starts suddenly or is severe, or if any of the following occur with breathing difficulties:
Your health care provider will take a detailed medical history and perform a physical examination.
You may be asked the following medical history questions:
The physical examination will include a thorough check of your lungs, heart, and upper airway passages.
Tests that may be performed include the following:
If the breathing difficulty is severe, you may need to go to a hospital. You may receive many different medications to treat the cause of breathing difficulty.
If your blood oxygen level is very low, you may need to receive oxygen. High doses of supplemental oxygen may be hazardous for some patients, however. Oxygen is not always needed for shortness of breath.
Schwartzstein RM, Adams L. Dyspnea. In: Mason RJ, Broaddus VC, Martin TR, et al, eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 28.
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