Woman with her hands crossed on her upper chest looking concerned.

What is dyspnea (shortness of breath)?

When you feel like you can’t get enough air into your lungs, it’s called shortness of breath. Doctors call this frightening feeling dyspnea. It can be a sign of many different health problems. You might describe it as having a tight feeling in your chest or not being able to breathe deeply.

Shortness of breath is often a symptom of heart and lung problems. But it can also be a sign of other conditions like asthma, allergies or anxiety. Intense exercise or having a cold can also make you feel breathless.

Is dyspnea dangerous?

Sometimes, shortness of breath can be a sign of a life-threatening medical condition. See a doctor if you:

  • Suddenly have difficulty breathing.
  • Have severe breathlessness (can’t catch your breath).
  • Still feel breathless after 30 minutes of rest.

Who is affected by shortness of breath?

Because it has so many causes, shortness of breath is very common. Anyone can experience it, but it happens more often in people with:

  • Anemia (low level of red blood cells).
  • Asthma.
  • Anxiety.
  • Heart or lung problems.
  • History of smoking.
  • Infections.
  • Poor fitness.
  • Severe obesity.

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