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Breathing difficulty

  • Definition

    Breathing difficulty involves a sensation of difficult or uncomfortable breathing or a feeling of not getting enough air.

    See also: Difficulty breathing - first aid

    Alternative Names

    Shortness of breath; Breathlessness; Difficulty breathing; Dyspnea


    No standard definition exists for difficulty breathing. Some people may feel breathless with only mild exercise (for example, climbing stairs), even though they do not have a medical condition. Others may have advanced lung disease but never feel short of breath.

    Wheezing is one form of breathing difficulty in which you make a high-pitched sound when you breathe out.

    See also:

    • Apnea
    • Breathing difficulties - first aid
    • Breathing difficulties - lying down
    • Lung diseases
    • Rapid breathing

    Common Causes

    Shortness of breath has many different causes:

    • A blockage of the air passages in your nose, mouth, or throat may lead to difficulty breathing.
    • Heart disease can cause breathlessness if your heart is unable to pump enough blood to supply oxygen to your body. If your brain, muscles, or other body organs do not receive enough oxygen, a sense of breathlessness may occur.
    • Lung disease can cause breathlessness.
    • Sometimes emotional distress, such as anxiety, can lead to difficulty breathing.

    The following problems may cause breathing difficulty:

    Problems with the lungs:

    • Blood clot in the arteries of the lungs (pulmonary embolism)
    • Bronchiolitis
    • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, and other chronic lung problems
    • Pneumonia
    • Pulmonary hypertension

    Problems with the airways leading to the lungs:

    • Choking on something stuck in the airways
    • Croup
    • Epiglottitis

    Problems with the heart:

    • Heart attack or angina
    • Hheart defects from birth (congenital heart disease)
    • Heart failure
    • Heart rhythm disturbances (arrhythmias)

    Other problems:

    • Allergies (such as to mold, dander, or pollen)
    • Climbing to high altitudes where there is less oxygen in the air
    • Compression of the chest wall
    • Dust in the environment
    • Hiatial hernia
    • Obesity
    • Panic attacks