The lungs and heart are the two main organs which affect your breathing. Shortness of breath without any clear reason (like anxiety or exercise) could be the result of a medical issue in need of treatment.
Problems with Your Lungs
Your lungs are responsible for saturating your blood with oxygen and ridding your blood cells of carbon dioxide. If parts of your body become oxygen starved or contain too much carbon dioxide, it can affect your breathing.
Asthma is a chronic condition which constricts and inflames airways in your lungs. Cells in the lungs may start to produce mucus, causing even less oxygen to be absorbed by your lungs.
Shortness of breath is common for people with asthma and can be treated with steroids administered via an inhaler.
Acute shortness of breath may be the sign of an asthma attack and is dangerous without medical treatment. If you have asthma, but your inhaler isn’t effective in reducing symptoms, call 911 or have someone drive you to the hospital immediately.
Lung cancer claims more lives per year than any other form of cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, Lung cancer is the second most common form of cancer for both men and women, with colon cancer being the most common in men and breast cancer being more common in women.
Lung cancer is the development of one or several tumors in your lungs.
In its early stage, lung cancer isn’t likely to show any symptoms. Once cancer progresses, symptoms may include:
- Persistent cough
- Chest pain
- Coughing up blood
- Losing weight without trying
The earlier cancer is detected and treated, the better your outlook becomes. Having regular doctor checkups and having a healthy lifestyle can help prevent and detect cancer early.
Smoking is a leading cause of lung cancer. Stopping the use of tobacco can greatly reduce your risk and start to reverse damage to your lungs, even after years of smoking.
Allergic Reaction (Anaphylaxis)
An allergic reaction can close airways and result in death in severe cases.
Seasonal and pet allergies can block airways and are usually present minor symptoms including rash and mucus.
However, acute anaphylaxis (when severe allergy symptoms develop rapidly) may require emergency medical treatment and the use of an EpiPen.
Shortness of breath after eating may be the sign of a food allergy, which may cause acute anaphylaxis and needs to be treated immediately. Food allergies can be discovered early in childhood, which often occurs with peanut allergies, but could also develop at any time in a person’s life.
Fortunately, there are several ways to test for allergies including skin and blood tests and looking at your family history because most allergies are passed down genetically.
Problems with Your Heart
Your heart and vascular system pump nutrient, oxygen-rich blood throughout your body while transporting carbon dioxide to the lungs to be exhaled.
Chest tightness, shortness of breath and other symptoms may indicate you have a heart condition or vascular issue.
Sometimes chest tightness and shortness of breath are temporary and non-lethal, but it’s nearly impossible to distinguish the difference between symptoms of a serious heart issue and something more benign. For example, the symptoms of a heart attack and a panic attack are nearly the same, and people often confuse a panic attack for a heart attack.
Heart failure is the result of your heart not pumping blood effectively.
Many diseases and lifestyle choices can damage your heart, causing irreversible damage leading to chest tightness, shortness of breath, fatigue and other complications. For example, hardening of the arteries due to plaque can damage your heart over time, increasing your risk of heart attack, raising your blood pressure and exacerbating your symptoms during strenuous exercise and stress.
Other symptoms of heart failure include:
- Persistent coughing
- A wheezing or whistling sound when you breathe
- Leg swelling
- Shortness of breath while exercising or when lying down
- Swelling of your abdomen
- Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)
- Chest pain
Acute heart failure, meaning your symptoms occur very suddenly, could be an indication of a heart problem which requires emergency medical services. If you suspect you have heart failure or are suffering from a heart attack, call 911 and seek medical attention immediately.
Shortness of Breath During Pregnancy
Shortness of breath during pregnancy is common, and most of the time it’s not anything to worry about. According to a study by Sorel Goland, M.D. (et al.) 60 to 70 percent of healthy pregnant women experience shortness of breath.
Your shortness of breath during pregnancy is likely due to your baby pushing up into your diaphragm by a few centimeters. Even pregnancy within the first trimester is possible but should be mild. As your fetus grows, more blood is required to circulate between you both, causing your heart to beat harder resulting in shortness of breath.
However, this doesn’t mean you can’t experience heart and lung complications while pregnant. For example, it’s possible you may experience a pulmonary embolism while pregnant. This is when a blood clot blocks blood flow in your lungs, causing symptoms like shortness of breath, chest pain and coughing.
A pulmonary embolism can be extremely dangerous and requires emergency medical services.
Ultimately, the best way to determine if your shortness of breath is a serious issue is to use your best reasoning.
Trust your instincts. If you’re worried about your shortness of breath, go to the hospital and make sure nothing is wrong. Even if your symptoms go away and your doctor finds nothing, it’s always better to be sure than sorry.