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What Can Cause Shortness of Breath?

A doctor can identify whether someone has asthma.
Shortness of breath is not uncommon for women in their third trimester of pregnancy.
Shortness of breath is a symptom of lung cancer.
Smoking can lead to lung problems and shortness of breath.
911 should be called if an individual experiences difficulty breathing.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 24 June 2014
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Shortness of breath occurs to all of us from time to time, and may be purely a matter of having exerted ourselves too much. It's fairly typical for hard exercise to cause shortness of breath. After a few minutes of resting, you should be able to “catch your breath” and breathe normally again. Sometimes shortness of breath is caused by conditions like pregnancy, especially in the third trimester. It may seem a little harder to breathe because of the growing baby, and this may be especially noticeable if you exert yourself for a few minutes. If you really feel like you’re unable to catch your breath at all, you should see a doctor immediately.

As common as shortness of breath is, sudden development of breathing difficulties, especially when you don’t have a reasonable explanation, can indicate very serious problems. You shouldn’t ignore shortness of breath that occurs suddenly or that seems to be occurring all of the time. In fact, if you’re in a situation where you cannot catch your breath, you need to get emergency help. Call 911 or emergency services if you are really having trouble breathing. When shortness of breath occurs in children, you should always see a doctor or contact emergency services right away.

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There are a number of things that can cause shortness of breath, and you may be able to discover the cause by looking at other symptoms. For instance if you are having shallow breaths and this is accompanied by wheezing, you may be experiencing asthma. When short breath is paired with fever, and cold or cough symptoms, you may have bronchitis or pneumonia. Anemia may cause shortness of breath, and you may notice additional symptoms of pale skin and chronic fatigue.

Heart attack, blood clot in the lungs (pulmonary embolism) or a collapsed lung may all cause shortness of breath. Other symptoms of these conditions include tightness or severe pain in the chest. Congestive heart failure can cause chronic shortness of breath, and people may have additional symptoms like puffy ankles and hands. They may also notice that breathing is more difficult when they lie down.

Recent or past damage to the lungs may cause shortness of breath. If you have recently inhaled or been exposed to chemicals or mass volumes of smoke, this can suggest your lungs need help. Long term exposure to chemicals and to cigarette smoke may indicate that breath shortening is caused by emphysema, lung disease, or lung cancer.

One cause of shortness of breath that many people don’t recognize is a panic or anxiety attack. If you begin breathing hard, can’t catch your breath and/or begin hyperventilation you may be having a panic attack. Panic attacks and heart attacks are often confused because people can feel tightness in the chest or pain in the chest with either. Unless you have panic disorder, get to a doctor to make sure that you aren’t missing diagnosis of a heart attack.

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Discuss this Article

anon947490
Post 21

Lately, I've been having trouble breathing. It comes at random times. It usually takes a couple of minutes before I'm able to catch my breath. I am 14 years old and I've never experienced this in the past. It's been going on for a year or so. I get a feeling that someone is compressing my lungs and I begin taking multiple short breaths before I'm able to catch a real breath that finally fills my lungs.

In P.E., we are running and I can't go for very long before it becomes painful to breathe. Also, I've been experiencing random dizziness spells. I had one today during one of my classes and I had to sit down before I fell. Sometimes it blurs my vision, but other times it gives me fatigue and headaches. If anyone has any information as to what is causing all if this, please let me know. Thanks!

anon924753
Post 19

When I'm doing exercise, I have this feeling that there's also breathing inside my body, near the lungs. I also feel tired even though I'm just doing it for the short period of time. any ideas?

anon348487
Post 17

This may sound weird, but when I'm constipated I can't catch my breath. It's like I'm so full inside. Anyone else ever have this?

anon345197
Post 16

For years I had a problem with some sudden shortness of breath attacks. It comes once in a while after months and even one good year, it surprises me because it happens when I'm just sitting or walking, relaxed.

There were times it was hard to talk, but it disappears after less than two minutes and it worries me. Can it be anxiety?

lighth0se33
Post 15

@JackWhack – Bless your heart! My sister lived with social anxiety for many years, so I've seen the pain it can cause. She had shortness of breath so severe at times that she was convinced she was having a heart attack!

Stress affected me differently. Instead of panic attacks, I got high blood pressure. I knew it was because of my job, but I needed the money, so I couldn't quit.

I could feel my heart racing, and my chest would feel tight. I could tell when my blood pressure rose, because my breathing became shallow. I just couldn't get a good breath.

I started taking medication for it, and I also took up yoga and meditation. I found that this deep relaxation at the end of every work day really cleared my mind and soothed my body. It lowered my blood pressure so much that I was able to stop taking the medication after a couple of months.

OeKc05
Post 14

I could not breathe deeply at all when I had bronchitis. My airways were so full of mucus that every breath produced a coughing fit.

It was exhausting! I coughed until my sides ached. Once I got started, I just couldn't stop.

Trying to sleep at night was the worst. I felt like I was drowning in my own mucus, and I just couldn't get enough air.

My doctor gave me some powerful cough syrup with codeine in it to help me sleep, but she told me to only take it at night. She said coughing up all that phlegm was good for my body, even if it did make me short of breath.

Perdido
Post 13

Running gives me shortness of breath. I can't even run for a short distance without completely losing it.

I feel like the wind has been knocked out of me. I have to walk instead of run for exercise, because getting that short of breath is too painful.

JackWhack
Post 12

I had social anxiety disorder for years, and I had shortness of breath for months before I had my first panic attack. I worried and stressed all the time, and being around other people made me so uptight.

I would get out of breath just walking from one room to another. I felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest, and I had no idea how to remove the weight.

It took an antidepressant for a few years, a few therapy sessions, and a church with like-minded people to get me over the disorder, but I am fine today. I no longer have shortness of breath, and I feel that I can help those who do have it.

anon319595
Post 11

I was told by my doctor that I have silent acid reflux. I cough and I have shortness of breath. I have lots of mucus. My nose runs when I cough.

anon319551
Post 10

Wood smoke causes shortness of breath, and can kill you slowly. Wood stoves of all kinds need to be banned!

anon310245
Post 8

I'm having trouble breathing during heavy rain and/or hail. Also when the winds are very strong. Can someone tell me why i experience this?

I exercise a lot and I've played soccer my whole life. I am 16 years old and I find this to be a problem a lot when I am playing a match and it starts to rain very heavy or hail. I can't catch my breath and it feels like someone is sucking all the air out of me. I can't continue playing and I am forced to get off the pitch. Someone please tell me what is going on.

anon264990
Post 7

When I laugh to hard sometimes I can't get air. It seems like there's no oxygen. What causes this?

anon176898
Post 6

I have had a lot of chest tightness and hard to breathe, and night sweats on a regular basis. Now there is fluid in my legs and ankles. The doctor has prescribed meds for this but they have not worked. I get tired of the run around doctors give you and the waste of money on meds that don't work. Can they not give you a straight answer?

anon173536
Post 5

can anxiety cause chest pain when you take a deep breath at times?

anon171624
Post 4

i have shortness of breath because i have to force myself to breathe. Sometimes it gets really uncomfortable.

anon162340
Post 3

i am having shortness of breath at night when I am sleeping.

anon142361
Post 2

I know what you mean. i have it so bad right now! I just started taking lexapro. I don't know if it's helping yet! I have been for every test possible and they said it's anxiety.

anon76544
Post 1

At times, my breath comes hard and it is hard to breathe. I have to force myself. It feels like my lungs are compressed. Then it goes away, then it reappears.

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