You run up a flight of stairs or race down the street after a loose dog, and you find yourself gasping for air. This shortness of breath is temporary and well earned after your physical exertion.
However, when shortness of breath comes on for no reason or it’s present more often than not, this could signal a problem with your heart, and it’s time to seek help.
At our practice, Dr. James Kim and our team take symptoms like shortness of breath very seriously. Here, we explore the different ways in which shortness of breath can present itself, what may be causing the issue, and the actions you should take.
Shortness of breath explained
As a symptom, shortness of breath may seem obvious, but there are some nuances we want to bring to your attention. Occasional shortness of breath, especially after exertion, is perfectly normal.
We get concerned if you’re dealing with some of the following attributes:
- Constant shortness of breath
- Shortness of breath with the least amount of physical exertion
- Trouble breathing when lying down
- Sudden onset of shortness of breath
- Co-current symptoms, such as leg swelling, chronic cough, or chest pain
If the shortness of breath comes on suddenly and it's accompanied by chest pain, dizziness, or fainting, this might signal a heart attack or a pulmonary embolism, and it’s imperative that you call 911 immediately. Every 40 seconds in the United States, someone suffers a heart attack, so this is a serious threat.
Causes of shortness of breath related to your heart health
Many health conditions that can lead to ongoing shortness of breath aren’t related to your cardiovascular system, such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, but we’re going to focus on heart-related conditions here.
Our primary concern when it comes to ongoing problems with shortness of breath is heart failure, which affects more than 6 million people in the US.
When you have heart failure, your heart isn’t pumping blood efficiently and blood can back up in your pulmonary veins, causing fluids to leak into your lungs. In addition to the shortness of breath, you may also experience leg swelling due to fluid backup in your lower extremities.
Outside of heart failure, heart-related shortness of breath could also come from inflammation around your heart, such as pericarditis, or problems with your heart muscle, such as cardiomyopathy.
Diagnosing your shortness of breath
If your shortness of breath is an ongoing problem and you’ve ruled out issues in your lungs, it’s time to come see us.
After reviewing your symptoms and your medical history, we can perform a few tests, such as blood tests and an echocardiogram. These diagnostic tools provide us with some valuable frontline information that helps us determine whether your shortness of breath is related to your cardiovascular system.
To get to the bottom of your shortness of breath, please contact us at one of our offices in Chula Vista or National City, California, to schedule an appointment.