Dyspnea is the medical term for shortness of breath, a nonspecific and common symptom that makes breathing feel difficult, uncomfortable, or restricted. Shortness of breath can make it hard to inhale deeply, tighten your chest, and leave you feeling as if you’re not getting enough oxygen.
Shortness of breath can be a temporary side effect of vigorous exercise, extreme heat, higher altitudes, or an acute lung infection such as pneumonia. It can also be a recurrent symptom of a long-term health condition.
Persistent dyspnea has many potential causes, ranging from chronic airway or lung conditions like asthma and emphysema to ongoing circulatory issues like anemia and low blood pressure (hypotension). Shortness of breath is also a common sign of heart trouble.
Shortness of breath and breathing pattern changes can be a sign that your heart isn’t working as efficiently as it should: You may find it hard to take a deep breath, or you may get easily winded when you climb a flight of stairs.
You may also find it harder to breathe when you lie down, or you might wake up in the middle of the night struggling to catch your breath.
Shortness of breath can be symptomatic of several different cardiovascular problems, including:
Sudden, severe shortness of breath may be a sign of a medical emergency that requires immediate attention, such as a heart attack or a pulmonary embolism. Dyspnea is especially concerning when it’s accompanied by chest pain, shoulder pain, nausea, dizziness, or fainting.
Some people feel short of breath during or after exercise, while others feel it mostly when they’re resting or lying down. You know your body — if you’re concerned about shortness of breath, you should be evaluated by your primary care physician.
They may refer you to a cardiologist in several situations: If they detect an abnormal heart rhythm; if your dyspnea is accompanied by chest discomfort; if your symptoms occur at rest or with minimal activity; or if your shortness of breath wakes you up at night or makes it impossible to lie flat on your back.
To investigate shortness of breath, the team at Coastal Cardiology of Orange County starts with a list of detailed questions and a physical exam.
Depending on the specifics of your case, they may also measure your blood oxygen levels, perform an electrocardiogram (EKG) test to evaluate your heart, or conduct cardiopulmonary exercise testing.
Call the nearest Coastal Cardiology of Orange County office to learn more, or book an appointment online today.