Dyspnea is the clinical term for shortness of breath. You can experience dyspnea for an apparent reason, like intense exercise, or for a reason you can’t name. You may feel like you can’t get air in your lungs at all or can’t get quite enough air.
At Heart & Vascular Institute, patients with various heart issues describe dyspnea as one of their symptoms. Feeling short of breath with no obvious cause can be worrisome. In this post, we discuss what increases your risk of dyspnea and when you should discuss it with our team.
Breathing in and out
When you inhale, your lungs absorb the oxygen from the air you breathe in, and that oxygen goes to your bloodstream. Oxygen-rich blood moves through your heart, which pumps it to every area of your body.
When your body isn’t getting the oxygen it needs, you might feel a tightness in your chest or the sensation you’re gasping for air. You may feel you’re suffocating, sense your heart is skipping beats, and wheeze or cough.
Causes of dyspnea
If you’ve fallen or participated in intense exercise, you understand the cause of your shortness of breath. You probably don’t enjoy the sensation, but you aren’t likely worried. If you’re relaxing on the sofa and you experience dyspnea, it can be frightening.
In addition to happening for many reasons, dyspnea can be acute, meaning it occurs suddenly, or chronic, meaning it occurs often. Here are just a few conditions that can cause dyspnea:
- Heart attack
- Allergic reaction
- Broken ribs
- Blood clots
- Pneumonia or other respiratory infections
- Heart failure
- Sudden blood loss
As you can see, shortness of breath can indicate a serious health issue — but not always. That’s one reason you should talk to a specialist if you’re feeling short of breath when you haven’t before, or if it's happening regularly.
Who’s at risk of dyspnea?
If you have a condition listed above, your risk of dyspnea is higher than that of someone who doesn’t. Clearly, if you have asthma, you feel short of breath sometimes.
The most common heart-related causes of dyspnea include:
- Arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat
- Congestive heart failure, when fluid builds up around your heart
- Heart attack
- Blood clot in your lungs (pulmonary embolism)
- Pericarditis, when tissue that surrounds your heart becomes inflamed
You also have a higher risk of dyspnea if you’re obese. And smokers are much more likely to feel short of breath than nonsmokers.
When to seek help
If you suddenly feel short of breath, have pain in your chest, feel nauseous, faint, or notice your lips or fingertips look blue, you should seek emergency medical care.
Because shortness of breath is associated with numerous serious problems, you should see us if you’re experiencing it, particularly if you also have swelling in your feet or ankles, struggle to breathe when lying down, run a fever, or are wheezing.
Call one of our Heart & Vascular Institute locations in Dearborn, Detroit, Southfield, or Wayne, Michigan, or book your visit online today.