Shortness of Breath (Dyspnea)

Shortness of breath is the feeling that you can’t get enough air into your lungs. Whether this feeling comes on suddenly or lasts for days, whether it occurs during activity or when you’re at rest, shortness of breath should be evaluated by a medical professional, since it may be a sign of heart disease.

Shortness of Breath (Dyspnea)
Shortness of breath may be a sign of heart disease.

Also known as dyspnea, shortness of breath can be a symptom of a heart or lung condition. If it’s unexplained or sudden, shortness of breath requires immediate medical attention, since it may indicate a serious health issue.


Different people experience shortness of breath in different ways. For some, it’s the feeling of not being able to catch their breath, while others describe it as a tight sensation in the chest that restricts their breathing.

Shortness of breath that is accompanied by nausea, fainting, chest pain, a blue tinge to the lips or nails, or a change in mental state could be an indication of a heart attack or pulmonary embolism. If you notice any of these symptoms or your breathlessness is severe and comes on suddenly, call 911.

Sometimes, shortness of breath is accompanied by other symptoms, such as swelling in the feet or ankles, wheezing, a high fever, chills, and difficulty breathing when lying flat. It’s important that you discuss all of your symptoms when seeking medical care, as this information will help your doctor diagnose the cause of your dyspnea.

Causes & Risk Factors

You might experience difficulty breathing for a variety of reasons. Chronic dyspnea (shortness of breath that lasts for more than a month) may be the result of anemia, obesity, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung infection, heart failure, heart valve disease, or a buildup of fluid around the heart or lungs. Acute (sudden) shortness of breath may be caused by heart failure, a pulmonary embolism, or a heart attack.

While occasional shortness of breath may not seem like anything to worry about, it’s a good idea to consult with a medical professional to make sure no underlying health conditions are involved.

Treatment & Prevention

Using their combined expertise and state-of-the-art diagnostics, the specialists at Manhattan Cardiovascular Associates can uncover the cause of your shortness of breath and develop an appropriate treatment plan. Once the cause is known, we can help you manage your symptoms and address any underlying health issues.