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Shortness of breath

A physician, surgeon, examines a technol

What are the causes of shortness of breath

There are a large number of causes to shortness of breath including: anxiety (hyperventilation), lack of physical fitness, being overweight, high blood pressure, anaemia. If these causes have been excluded heart or lung disease commonly cause shortness of breath. The list below is not exhaustive but includes some of the common causes. Please do not try and self-diagnose and seek professional medial advise from your GP if you are concerned about shortness of breath.


Heart causes:

Heart attack

Atypical angina

Heart failure

Arrhythmias such as atrial fibrillation

Valvular heart disease


Lung causes:




Clot on the lungs (pulmonary embolism)


Scarring of the lungs (fibrosis)

Lung cancer

Pleural effusion(fluids accumulation around the lungs)

Pulmonary hypertension

Pneumothorax (collapsed lung)

When can I experience shortness of breath

Cardiac causes of shortness of breath commonly occur during walking or other exertion such as climbing stairs or walking up hills. It can also occur at rest particularly at night when lying flat.

What tests are used to investigate the causes of breathlessness

Patients with breathlessness will need a full history and examination and may require a variety of tests. These might include some or all of the following: blood tests, chest x-ray, lung function tests, an ECG, echocardiogram or a stress test. Other tests such as a CT scan may also be required depending on the clinical assessment.

What should I do if I develop shortness of breath

If your shortness of breath is of sudden onset or associated with chest tightness or a heavy feeling in your chest, or if you have pain which spreads to your arms or back you should call 999 and seek urgent medical care in hospital. You might be suffering from a heart attack of other serious heart or lung problem.

If your shortness of breath is persistent, especially if associated with a cough, exertion, is worse when lying flat or associated with swelling of your ankles you should contact your GP as you might need further tests and review by a heart or lung specialist.

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