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Shortness of Breath

Shortness of breath, also called dyspnea, is described as difficulty breathing or trouble catching your breath. Dyspnea is sometimes described as the inability to “get enough air” or breathlessness.

Dyspnea can be caused by multiple things or can be a symptom of another medical condition. Certain medical conditions that cause dyspnea include anemia (low level of hemoglobin responsible for carrying oxygen in your blood), heart and/or lung disease, anxiety and being out of shape (deconditioned) or overweight/obese.

Dyspnea can be normal in many cases such as if you performed heavy lifting, during exercise, in high altitudes or in bad air quality. Symptoms that are not normal and should be evaluated by your healthcare professional include dyspnea along with: swelling in your feet and ankles, difficulty breathing while lying down, high fever, color changes in your skin (blue color), wheezing or high pitch sound when breathing, and dyspnea that does not get better after 30 minutes of rest.

Diagnosing the cause of dyspnea includes evaluating your current health, history and lifestyle factors, including smoking and exercise. Your healthcare provider may order pulmonary function tests (breathing tests) to evaluate your lung function, blood tests, chest x-ray or echocardiogram (ultrasound of your heart).

Treatment for dyspnea is based on the cause (if found). Managing the underlying condition causing dyspnea is generally successful in alleviating shortness of breath. Inhaled or oral medication may be recommended. Avoiding smoking, improving physical condition and avoiding triggers (things that make dyspnea worse) may be recommended as well.

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