Shortness of Breath (Dyspnea)

Symptom Checker: Symptoms & Signs Index

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Shortness of breath has many causes affecting either the breathing passages and lungs or the heart or blood vessels. However, the causes fall into simple categories that we have listed for you below. Shortness of breath is also referred to as dyspnea. Doctors will further classify dyspnea as either occurring at rest or being associated with activity or exercise. They will also want to know if the dyspnea occurs gradually or all of a sudden. Each of these symptoms help to detect the precise cause of the shortness of breath.

An average 150 pound (70 kilogram) adult will breath at an average rate of 14 breaths per minute at rest. Excessively rapid breathing is referred to as hyperventilation.

Patients may experience the related symptoms of Wheezing, Cough, and/or Chest Pain.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/21/2012

Health concern on your mind? Visit the Symptom Checker.

REFERENCE:

Fauci, Anthony S., et al. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. 17th ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Professional, 2008.

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      Pulmonary Edema Article
      • Pulmonary edema facts
      • What is pulmonary edema?
      • What causes pulmonary edema?
      • What are the risk factors for pulmonary edema?
      • What are the symptoms of pulmonary edema?
      • When should I seek medical care for pulmonary edema?
      • How is pulmonary edema diagnosed?
      • What is the treatment for pulmonary edema?
      • What are the complications of pulmonary edema?
      • How can pulmonary edema be prevented?
    • Pulmonary Embolism (Blood Clot in the Lung) A pulmonary embolism occurs when a piece of a blood clot from deep vein thrombosis (DVT) breaks off and travels to an artery in...learn more »
      In This Article
      Pulmonary Embolism (Blood Clot in the Lung) Article
      • Pulmonary embolism facts
      • What is a pulmonary embolism?
      • What are the causes and risk factors for pulmonary embolism?
      • What are the signs and symptoms of pulmonary embolism?
      • How is pulmonary embolism diagnosed?
      • History and physical examination
      • Basic testing (CBC, electrolytes, BUN, creatinine blood test, chest x-ray, EKG)
      • Pulmonary angiogram
      • d-Dimer blood test
      • CT Scan
      • Ventilation-perfusion scans
      • Venous Doppler study
      • Echocardiography (EKG, ECG)
      • What is the treatment for pulmonary embolism?
      • Anticoagulation
      • Thrombolytic therapy
      • What is the prognosis for pulmonary embolism?
      • Can pulmonary embolism be prevented?
    • Pulmonary Fibrosis Pulmonary fibrosis is scarring throughout the lungs. Pulmonary fibrosis can be caused by many conditions including chronic...learn more »
      In This Article
      Pulmonary Fibrosis Article
      • What is pulmonary fibrosis?
      • What are causes and symptoms of pulmonary fibrosis?
      • How is pulmonary fibrosis diagnosed?
      • How is pulmonary fibrosis treated?
      • What are the complications of pulmonary fibrosis?
      • Can pulmonary fibrosis be prevented?
      • What is the prognosis for pulmonary fibrosis?
      • Where can I get information to improve the quality of life for those with pulmonary fibrosis?
    • Pulmonary Hypertension Pulmonary hypertension is an abnormal elevation of the pressure in the pulmonary circulation caused by the constriction of the...learn more »
      In This Article
      Pulmonary Hypertension Article
      • What are pulmonary arteries?
      • What is pulmonary hypertension?
      • What are primary and secondary pulmonary hypertension?
      • What causes pulmonary hypertension?
      • What causes primary pulmonary hypertension?
      • How common is pulmonary hypertension?
      • What are the signs and symptoms of pulmonary hypertension?
      • How is pulmonary hypertension diagnosed?
      • What is the treatment for pulmonary hypertension?
      • What is the life expectancy for pulmonary hypertension?
      • Related pulmonary hypertension article: Pulmonary Hypertension - on eMedicineHealth
    • Rheumatoid Arthritis Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes chronic inflammation of the joints, the tissue around the joints, as...learn more »
      In This Article
      Rheumatoid Arthritis Article
      • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) facts
      • What is rheumatoid arthritis (RA)?
      • What are causes and risk factors of rheumatoid arthritis?
      • What are rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and signs?
      • What are complications of rheumatoid disease?
      • How do physicians diagnose rheumatoid arthritis?
      • What is the treatment for rheumatoid arthritis?
      • "First-line" rheumatoid arthritis medications
      • "Second-line" or "slow-acting" rheumatoid arthritis drugs
      • What are newer treatments for rheumatoid arthritis?
      • What about rheumatoid arthritis and pregnancy?
      • Rheumatoid arthritis diet and other treatments
      • What is the prognosis (outlook) for patients with rheumatoid arthritis?
      • Is it possible to prevent rheumatoid arthritis?
      • What research is being done on rheumatoid arthritis?
      • Where can people get additional information on rheumatoid arthritis?
    • Sarcoidosis Sarcoidosis, a disease resulting from chronic inflammation, causes small lumps (granulomas) to develop in a great range of body...learn more »
      In This Article
      Sarcoidosis Article
      • Sarcoidosis facts
      • What is sarcoidosis?
      • What are symptoms of sarcoidosis?
      • Who gets sarcoidosis?
      • What we know about sarcoidosis
      • Some things we don't know about sarcoidosis
      • How is sarcoidosis diagnosed?
      • What are some signs and symptoms that suggest possible sarcoidosis?
      • What do laboratory tests show?
      • How is sarcoidosis treated?
      • Living with sarcoidosis
      • Where can a person find more information on sarcoidosis?
    • SARS Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is a respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV. Symptoms include fever and...learn more »
      In This Article
      SARS Article
      • Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) facts
      • What is severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)?
      • What causes SARS? How is SARS transmitted?
      • What are risk factors for SARS?
      • What are SARS symptoms and signs?
      • How is SARS diagnosed?
      • What is the treatment for SARS?
      • What is the prognosis of SARS?
      • Is it possible to prevent SARS?
      • Is there a SARS vaccine? What research is being done on SARS?
      • Where can people get more information about SARS?
    • Scoliosis Scoliosis causes an abnormal curvature of the spine. When the cause of scoliosis is unknown the disorder is described based on...learn more »
      In This Article
      Scoliosis Article
      • Scoliosis facts
      • What is scoliosis?
      • What causes scoliosis?
      • What are the symptoms and signs of scoliosis?
      • How is scoliosis diagnosed?
      • What is the treatment for scoliosis?
      • What is the prognosis for scoliosis?
      • Is there a cure for scoliosis?
      • Where can people get more information on scoliosis?
    • Smoking (How to Quit Smoking) Smoking is an addiction. More than 430,000 deaths occur each year in the U.S. from smoking related illnesses. Secondhand smoke or...learn more »
      In This Article
      Smoking (How to Quit Smoking) Article
      • Smoking and quitting smoking facts
      • What problems are caused by smoking?
      • What is addictive disease and why is smoking considered addictive?
      • What are the signs of cigarette addiction?
      • Why should someone quit smoking?
      • What are the steps in quitting?
      • Getting ready to quit smoking
      • On the day you quit smoking
      • Staying quit
      • What methods can help a person quit smoking?
      • Behavioral modification and self-help literature to quit smoking
      • Nicotine replacement therapy to quit smoking
      • What prescription products are available for smoking cessation?
      • How are nicotine-containing products used safely?
      • What is in the future for smoking?
    • Stroke A stroke is an interruption of the blood supply to part of the brain caused by either a blood clot (ischemic) or bleeding...learn more »
      In This Article
      Stroke Article
      • Stroke facts
      • What is a stroke?
      • What are the different types of stroke?
      • What are the warning signs of a stroke?
      • What are the symptoms of a stroke?
      • How is a stroke diagnosed?
      • What is the treatment for stroke?
      • What is the prognosis for stroke?
      • Is recovery after a stroke possible?
      • What is stroke rehabilitation?
      • Can strokes be prevented?
    • Swine Flu Novel H1N1 influenza A virus infection (swine flu) is an infection that generally is transferred from an infected pig to a human,...learn more »
      In This Article
      Swine Flu Article
      • Swine flu (H1N1 and H3N2v influenza virus) facts
      • What is the swine flu?
      • What causes swine flu?
      • Why is swine flu now infecting humans?
      • What are the symptoms of swine flu?
      • How is swine flu diagnosed?
      • What is the treatment for swine flu?
      • What is the history of swine flu?
      • What are the risk factors for swine flu?
      • Can swine flu be prevented with a vaccine?
      • Can swine flu be prevented if the a flu vaccine (or other flu strain vaccine) is not readily available?
      • Was swine flu (H1N1) a cause of an epidemic or pandemic in the 2009-2010 flu season?
      • What is the prognosis (outlook) and complications for patients who get swine flu?
      • Where can I find more information about swine flu?
    • Thymoma Thymoma is an uncommon cancer of the thymus gland. Many thymomas are asymptomatic. When symptoms do occur, they include chest...learn more »
      In This Article
      Thymoma Article
      • Thymoma facts
      • What is thymoma?
      • What causes thymoma, and what are risk factors for thymoma?
      • What are signs and symptoms of thymoma?
      • What other medical conditions are associated with thymoma?
      • How is thymoma diagnosed?
      • What are the stages of thymoma?
      • What is the treatment for thymoma?
      • What is the prognosis for thymoma?
      • Can thymoma be prevented?
    • Tuberculosis (TB) Mycobacterium tuberculosis is the bacterium that causes tuberculosis (TB). Symptoms and signs of TB include bloody sputum, fever,...learn more »
      In This Article
      Tuberculosis (TB) Article
      • Tuberculosis (TB) facts
      • What is tuberculosis?
      • Are there different types of tuberculosis?
      • What causes tuberculosis?
      • What are risk factors for tuberculosis?
      • What are tuberculosis symptoms and signs?
      • How do physicians diagnose tuberculosis?
      • What is the treatment for tuberculosis?
      • What are complications of tuberculosis?
      • What is the prognosis of tuberculosis?
      • How can people prevent tuberculosis?
    • Vasculitis Vasculitis is a general term for a group of uncommon diseases which feature inflammation of the blood vessels. Each form of...learn more »
      In This Article
      Vasculitis Article
      • Vasculitis facts
      • What is vasculitis?
      • What causes vasculitis, and what are examples of diseases with vasculitis?
      • What are the symptoms of vasculitis?
      • How is vasculitis diagnosed?
      • How is vasculitis treated?
    • Williams Syndrome Williams syndrome is a developmental disorder that affects many parts of the body. Features may include intellectual disability,...learn more »
      In This Article
      Williams Syndrome Article
      • Williams syndrome facts*
      • What is Williams syndrome?
      • How common is Williams syndrome?
      • What are the genetic changes related to Williams syndrome?
      • Can Williams syndrome be inherited?
      • What other names do people use for Williams syndrome?
Other Causes of Shortness of Breath
  • Chest Wall & Chest Muscle Diseases
    Numerous diseases of muscles and the nervous system can lead to shortness of breath by weakening the body's capacity for opening the lungs up for respiration. Examples of muscle diseases include muscular dystrophy. Nervous system diseases, such as paralysis, can lead to shortness of breath.
  • Heart Diseases
    Many conditions that affect the heart and its capacity to move blood through the lungs can lead to shortness of breath. These conditions include valve diseases of the heart and others.
  • Lung Tissue Diseases
    There are a vast number of lung tissue diseases ranging from common and temporary, to uncommon and chronic. These include infections (pneumonia, acute bronchitis from bacteria, viruses, etc.), cancers that have spread to the lung, chemical and radiation toxicity to the lung (including radiation therapy), occupational toxicities (such as minerals from mines), hemosiderosis, fungus infections (coccidiomycosis, blastomycosis, aspergillosis), allergic reactions, drug toxicity, connective tissue diseases, and many others.
  • Obstructions to Airflow
    Obstruction to airflow can occur anywhere along the passageway that the air we breathe takes from entering the nose and mouth, through the trachea (windpipe in our throats), through the bronchial tubes and tiny airways in the lungs. Sudden blockage of airways is a medical emergency and can be caused by inhaling objects, food particles or fluids.
  • Other Causes
    Acidosis, such as from salicylate (aspirin) poisoning. Low oxygen environment, such as at high altitudes.
Examples of Medications for Shortness of Breath



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