Should I Be Worried about my Shortness of Breath?

man out of breathHealthy adults take about 30,000 breaths a day, and most of the time, it takes no conscious effort and you don’t even pay attention to it. When you experience shortness of breath (dyspnea), however, it can be worrisome and leave you wondering what’s wrong.

In this blog, New York City pulmonologist Dr. Marc Bowen of MXBowen, Physician P.C., Health & Breathing Center, explains more about when you should worry about your shortness of breath.

When should you be concerned about shortness of breath?

If you experience sudden, severe trouble catching your breath – especially if it’s accompanied by nausea or chest pain – you should call 911 immediately.

In some other cases, breathing issues can be accompanied by other symptoms that indicate you need to see your doctor:

  • Difficulty breathing when you’re lying down
  • Swelling in your feet and ankles
  • Wheezing
  • High fever, cough, and chills

If you’re at all concerned about what’s occurring and why, it’s best to see a doctor. He or she can provide treatment when needed and keep an unexpected condition from becoming worse.

What can cause shortness of breath?

This issue is often related to your heart or lungs. The following are some common causes:

  • Asthma
  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • Excess fluid around the heart
  • Heart failure
  • Heart dysfunction
  • Heart arrhythmias (problems with the heart’s rhythm)
  • Cardiomyopathy (problem with the heart muscle)
  • Low blood pressure
  • Upper airway obstruction
  • Pneumonia
  • Pulmonary embolism (a blood clot in an artery of the lung)
  • Lung disease
  • Lung cancer
  • Excess fluid in the lungs
  • Tuberculosis
  • Pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure within the lungs’ blood vessels)
  • Sudden blood loss
  • Obesity
  • Anemia

What testing may be done?

Your doctor will talk to you about your symptoms and medical history and will conduct an examination. He or she may also perform any of the following tests to determine the cause of your shortness of breath:

  • Spirometry – a lung function test that can help diagnose asthma and COPD
  • Pulse oximetry – measures the amount of oxygen in your blood
  • Blood tests – to check for anemia or evidence of an infection, as well as a blood clot or fluid on your lungs
  • Nitric oxide monitoring – to assess asthmatic inflammation in your airway
  • Pulmonary or endobronchial ultrasound – to diagnose conditions such as pneumonia and fluid around your lungs
  • Chest X-ray or CT scan – to check for pneumonia or a blood clot on your lung
  • Bronchoscopy – to look for inflammation, bleeding, or tumors in your airway
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG) – to determine your heart’s rate and rhythm and whether you’ve had a heart attack

What are the treatment options?

Treatment depends on the cause of your symptoms as well as your condition. Medication is often an important part of treatment, and the type used will vary according to the cause of your symptoms.

If you’re experiencing shortness of breath, make an appointment today with MXBowen, Physician P.C., Health & Breathing Center. Dr. Bowen will conduct an examination, talk to you about your symptoms and medical history, and conduct any needed testing. He’ll then recommend the most effective treatment to address what’s causing your shortness of breath.

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