Difficulty breathing, or shortness of breath, is the sensation that you can’t draw enough air into your lungs. People experiencing breathing difficulties feel as though the otherwise simple act of breathing takes more effort than usual. Known medically as dyspnea, it can occur at any time, whether you are resting or participating in a strenuous activity. Since it may be a sign of a serious health condition, any persistent breathing difficulty should be evaluated by a medical professional.

What Are the Reasons For Difficulty Breathing?

Breathing difficulties are common, and may be caused by a number of different factors. Some of them are minor, such as allergies or stress. Others are more serious. The majority of cases are the result of heart or lung conditions. Here are the most common ones.

Lung Conditions

  • Asthma
  • COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)
  • Croup
  • Epiglottitis
  • Hiatal hernia
  • Pleurisy
  • Pneumonia
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Pulmonary fibrosis
  • Pulmonary hypertension
  • Sarcoidosis
  • Tuberculosis

Heart Conditions

  • Arrhythmia
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Pericarditis
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Other conditions that can cause shortness of breath include anemia, broken ribs, choking, foreign objects in the lungs and anxiety.

When to Seek Treatment

If you are experiencing sudden and severe shortness of breath – especially if it is accompanied by chest pain, dizziness or nausea – call 911. This could indicate a heart attack and is a medical emergency.

Of less immediate concern, but still necessitating a doctor’s appointment, is difficulty breathing accompanied by swelling in the feet or ankles, fever, chills, tightness in the throat, wheezing and blue fingertips or mouth. Also, if you experience trouble breathing when lying flat, or if your shortness of breath worsens, see a doctor.

The type of treatment you receive depends on what is causing your breathing difficulties. Possible solutions include lifestyle modification, meditation, counseling, exercise and medication.

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