Shortness of breath: Everything you need to know

What is considered shortness of breath?

Generally speaking, shortness of breath means having a hard time breathing. However, symptoms of shortness of breath can vary significantly in speed and degree of breath shortness.

In milder forms of shortness of breath, you may only have shortness of breath when walking too fast.

Feeling out of breath after running too far and too fast is normal. However, if you have the same feeling with walking, it is considered abnormal shortness of breath.

Feeling out of breath with minimal activity is a severe shortness of breath symptom. Trouble taking a full breath or not being able to speak in full sentences are considered warning signs of impending respiratory failure.

What does shortness of breath feel like?

Shortness of breath is a horrifying experience. Here are some of the ways people feel when they have shortness of breath:

  1. Some people feel like they are not getting enough air. They actually feel a shortage of breath. It is a feeling similar to drowning.
  2. Other patients feel like they have trouble getting full breath. They feel like their lungs are not bringing enough air inside the chest. These patients are very distressed and they simply say, “ I’m having trouble breathing.”
  3. Some people feel like their breathing is swallow and fast. They are unable to take slow deep breaths.
  4. Some people with shortness of breath feel like gasping for air. Without doing anything, they feel like they have just ran a mile.
  5. Some people feel like they have trouble drawing air in and out of their lungs. They feel like their air pipes have narrowed and they have to work extremely hard to suck each breath in.

What to do for shortness of breath?

Symptoms of dyspnea (medical term for shortness of breath) should never be ignored. In most cases, shortness of breath treatment requires an ER visit. If you are by yourself and you feel like you have severe shortness of breath, you need to call 911 right away. There are no home remedies for shortness of breath in such situations.

Causes for shortness of breath

What can cause shortness of breath depends on the particular situation. Your age and your medical history will dictate the most likely cause of your shortness of breath.

Here we will look at different types of shortness of breath symptoms and list the causes.

Sudden shortness of breath without chest pain

Sudden onset shortness of breath without chest pain is a worrisome sign. If you were breathing normally and you suddenly feel a significant shortage of breath, it could represent a catastrophic event inside your body. Here are some of the important causes of sudden shortness of breath without chest pain:

  1. Silent heart attacks: You may have a heart attack without any chest pain. Sudden onset shortness of breath without chest pain is a very worrisome symptom of silent heart attack. If you want to learn all symptoms of silent heart attack, you can click on this link to the detailed article about silent heart attacks.
  2. Blood clot in lungs: Symptoms of blood clot in lungs start very abruptly. Sudden onset shortness of breath with or without chest pain is a very common sign of blood clot in lungs. If you want read detailed article on blood clot in lungs, you can click on this link.

Causes of shortness of breath and fatigue with slowly worsening symptoms

When symptom of shortness of breath builds slowly over time, you may not feel anything for a while. Slowly, you may feel like you are always tired. Shortness of breath, no energy and fatigue may set in so slowly that you may not seek help for a long time. You may even blame your symptoms on aging or working too hard. Eventually you may start asking, “what causes shortness of breath when walking?” You may feel like your breathing is fine at rest but you begin to huff and puff when you walk a little faster than your usual.

Here are some causes of shortness of breath and fatigue with slowly worsening symptoms:

  1. Anemia: When you have anemia, the oxygen carrying capacity of your blood goes down. In a slowly developing anemia, your body gets adjusted to the low oxygen level and you may only have symptoms of low energy for a long time.
  2. Obesity: As you start putting on more weight, your body starts to get tired and overworked. Eventually, your belly starts pushing back on your lungs and you can’t breath properly. Eventually you start to have shortness of breath with activity.
  3. Heart failure: Fatigue and low energy are early symptoms of heart failure. As your lungs slowly start to fill up with excess fluid, you develop shortness of breath and feel like you have no energy at all.

Shortness of breath with little exertion (Severe shortness of breath)

If you are out of breath with little exertion, you need to think about serious problems in your heart or your lungs. Feeling out of breath is a sign of trouble. If you are out of breath just walking a few steps, you need to see your doctor right away. When you are having a hard time breathing with your normal everyday activity, you should not wait to get medical help. You may already have a low oxygen level in your blood.



Here are some of the important causes of shortness of breath with little exertion:

  1. Advanced COPD: When the lung damage from your COPD gets to a certain level, it interferes with gas exchange inside your lungs and you become short winded with minimal activity. You may even start to have shortness of breath while resting. You need urgent medical evaluation and may possibly need oxygen at home.
  2. Severe heart failure: When your heart muscles are too weak to pump your blood effectively, you have significant fluid accumulation in your lungs all the time. It makes you short of breath with little exertion.
  3. Lung fibrosis: Many different kinds of disease can damage the connective tissue inside your lungs and lead to scar formation. These fiber like scar will damage your lungs and interfere with oxygen exchange.
  4. Carbon-monoxide poisoning: It damages the oxygen delivery system in your blood cells and causes severe shortness of breath.
  5. Severe pneumonia: It causes widespread inflammation inside your lungs. You may require intubation because of severe shortness of breath and low oxygen.
  6. Pulmonary hypertension: You have very high blood pressure inside your lungs. It interferes with the normal blood flow inside your lungs and makes you short of breath with little exertion.

Trouble getting full breath

Trouble getting full breath can happen in two types of lung problems. First you have have something restricting your lungs from expanding. Second, you may have shortness of breath due to airway obstruction.

Here are some causes of shortness of breath due to trouble getting full breath:

  1. Rib fracture: When you have rib fracture, it hurts to take a deep breath. You have trouble getting full breath because of the pain.
  2. Asthma: When you have an asthma attack, your airways narrows and you have to work extra hard to draw air inside your lungs.
  3. Myasthenia Gravis: It is a disease that causes widespread muscle weakness. Due to the weakness of your muscles involved in breathing, you may have trouble getting full breath.