Shortness of Breath

Shortness of breath is most often a symptom of cardiac or pulmonary (lung) disorders. Heart failure and coronary artery diseasefrequently produce shortness of breath.

Patients with heart failure commonly experience shortness of breath with exertion, or when lying flat on their backs. So at night patients with heart failure often sleep sitting up with 4 or 5 pillos. They also can suddenly wake up at night gasping for breath, a condition known as paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea.

Coronary artery disease can manifest as shortness of breath on exertion, with breathlessness in place of chest discomfort (angina). Other cardiac conditions such as valvular heart disease or pericardial disease can produce this symptom, as can cardiac arrhythmias.

Numerous lung conditions can produce shortness of breath including asthma, emphysema, bronchitis, pneumonia, or pleural effusion (a fluid accumulation between the lung and chest wall).

Shortness of breath is almost always a sign of a significant medical problem, and should always be evaluated by a doctor.