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Is shortness of breath ever normal?

Do you ever feel short of breath? (Photo used with permission from Heart & Vascular Institute)

If you’ve ever had the feeling that you just can’t get enough air, you know what it’s like to experience shortness of breath. It’s unpleasant, and it can be frightening.

In some instances, shortness of breath isn’t something to worry about. More often, it’s a symptom of an underlying problem that needs attention.

At Heart & Vascular Institute, their team of experts sees many patients who’ve experienced dyspnea, or shortness of breath. That’s because dyspnea is a symptom of several cardiac conditions.

When you can’t get enough air, there’s a problem with your lungs and/or heart. The problem could be temporary, or it could be something that worsens with time and lack of treatment.

When you shouldn’t worry

Situations in which you might experience dyspnea that aren’t an immediate health concern include:

  • You’ve engaged in intense exercise.
  • You’re at a high altitude.
  • You’re in a place with poor air quality.
  • You’re experiencing temperature extremes.

In each of these situations, there’s a clear cause for your shortness of breath. It’s still an unpleasant experience, but it’s not related to a life-threatening condition.

Shortness of breath that requires medical care

If you’re not in one of the “don’t worry” situations and experience shortness of breath, schedule an appointment with your doctor, said the experts from Heart & Vascular Institute.

The reason you’re struggling to breathe may be easily explained and not a long-term concern, or it could indicate a condition such as heart disease.

Obesity, allergies, asthma, and anemia are a few reasons that people feel short of breath, and they’re highly treatable. Pneumonia and pleurisy may also cause dyspnea but are highly treatable and temporary.

Other serious causes of shortness of breath

If you develop a blood clot in your lungs, called a pulmonary embolism, you may feel short of breath. A pulmonary embolism is serious because the clot can break away and lead to a heart attack or other serious problem.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, can also cause you to feel short of breath. COPD is a serious, chronic disease that requires regular care and management, according to Heart & Vascular Institute.

Conditions like pneumonia can lead to scarring in your lungs, and that scar tissue may cause you to feel short of breath. Dyspnea is also a symptom of lung cancer and tuberculosis, the team at Heart & Vascular Institute said.

Cardiac causes of dyspnea

Multiple cardiac conditions can cause shortness of breath, including:

  • Congestive heart failure
  • Arrhythmia
  • Pericarditis
  • A heart attack
  • Cardiomyopathy

When you come to Heart & Vascular Institute with shortness of breath, doctors will run a battery of tests to learn what’s causing the problem. There are treatments for most of the underlying causes of dyspnea, but understanding why you’re struggling to breathe is a critical first step, health experts said.

If you’ve just done the toughest workout of your life or if you’re on vacation in the mountains and you feel short of breath, you probably don’t need to be terribly concerned. However, if you walk to your mailbox and feel as if you can’t take a deep enough breath, you should see your doctor, according to Heart & Vascular Institute.

If you’re sitting on the sofa and suddenly feel as if you can’t breathe, you should seek emergency medical care, they added.

Heart & Vascular Institute specializes in treating problems with your cardiovascular system, and that includes many of the underlying causes of dyspnea.

“Even if you only occasionally feel short of breath, schedule an appointment and let us investigate the reason you can’t breathe properly,” the team said.

The Institute has three locations, in Dearborn, Detroit and Southfield. Learn more about booking an appointment.