If you have ever felt shortness of breath or if you cannot hold your breath or get adequate air in the lungs, then you are experiencing a condition medically termed dyspnea. It is a warning sign of a health disorder or symptoms of other health issues, mostly related to heart or lung disease that needs prompt medical care. A healthy adult normally breathes in and out up to 20 times per minute, that’s approximately 30,000 breaths a day. While a strenuous workout or common cold might throw a pull in this pattern from time to time, but it is a temporary issue and would settle soon.
Woman with Dyspnea


The most common symptom of dyspnea is laboured breathing. It may prevail for a minute or two after an intense workout or it could be a chronic health condition. You may have the sensation of not getting enough air into lungs all the time and in more severe cases, you may feel as though you are suffocating. Spells of dyspnea may lead to chest tightness. When you have dyspnea you may feel:

Out of breath

Tightness in chest

Hungry for air

Not able to take deep breath


This condition can be acute (sudden dyspnea) or chronic (long-lasting dyspnea). Acute dyspnea begins within a few minutes or hours, it is mostly associated with fever, rash or cough. Chronic dyspnea can make you feel ran out of breath with daily activities such as walking around the room or standing up.

At time shortness of breath gets better or worse by changing body posture. For instance, lying down flat can cause shortness of breath in an individual with heart or lung disease.

Also Read: Breathing Difficulty: Simple And Effective Ways To Manage Asthma During Monsoon Season

Causes of Dyspnea

Several health conditions can lead to shortness of breath and the most common cause of short-term dyspnea include:

Anxiety disorders


Pulmonary embolism

Broken ribs

Excess fluid accumulation in the heart


A damaged lung

Heart attacks

Heart failure

Heart rhythm problems


Pneumonia and other respiratory infections


A severe allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis

Sudden blood loss

Some of the common causes of long-term dyspnea include:

Fluid build-up in the lungs



Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

Sarcoidosis, a collection of inflammatory cells in the body

Heart disease, including congestive heart failure

Inflammation of the tissue around the heart

Pulmonary hypertension

Scarring of the lungs, lung cancer



Also Read: Respiratory Failure: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment


The physician will thoroughly examine you and listen carefully to the lungs and recommend to do lung function test, called spirometry that measures how much air you can blow in and out of the lung and how fast you can do. This test also helps to diagnose asthma and COPD.

Other Tests Include:

Pulse oximetry: The physician clips a machine to your finger or earlobe to measure the level of oxygen in the blood.

Blood tests: Certain blood works are suggested to check for any infection, anaemia or blood clot or fluid accumulation in the lungs.

Chest X-ray/CT Scan: Imaging test or X-rays can determine if the patient has pneumonia, blood clot in the lung or any other prevailing lung diseases.

Electrocardiogram: This test determines electrical signals from the heart to find out how fast heart is beating and if it has a healthy rhythm.


Generally, the treatment plan for dyspnea will depend on identifying the causative factor for shortness of breath.

Diet /Regular Workouts

If obesity and poor fitness levels are the cause of dyspnea, then healthier diet regimen with regular workouts may help you to lose excess weight and regulate the breathing pattern.

Pulmonary Rehabilitation

COPD and other lung problems may need prompt care of a pulmonologist, where the patient may need supplemental oxygen therapy to help improve breathing. In addition, breathing exercises are also suggested to overcome lung disorder.

For a person with asthma inhaler can be used during the flare to control breathing difficulty. If an infection or a blood clot is making you feel short of breath then medications are prescribed

Cardiac Rehabilitation

In a person with heart failure, the heart is too weak to pump adequate oxygenated blood to all the cells in the body. Dyspnea is one of the most common symptoms of heart failure. Cardiac rehabilitation can help you manage heart failure and other related heart conditions, where an artificial pump may help with proper pumping activities of a weakened heart.