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Diagnosing and Treating Shortness of Breath

If you are concerned about your shortness of breath, you should consult your doctor immediately as it may be the sign of a more serious condition.

How Shortness of Breath Is Diagnosed

Your doctor will start by taking a detailed medical history and asking about the nature of the shortness of breath; when it gets worse, when it gets better and if you are having additional symptoms. Chest pain, dizziness, cough, wheezing, lips turning blue, trouble breathing when your sleeping or lying down and swelling in your feet and ankles may all signal a bigger problem. Breathing difficulty that comes on suddenly is persistent or interferes with your daily activities should also be noted.

After doing a physical exam and listening to your heart and lungs, your doctor may order additional tests. Commonly these include blood tests, imaging tests such as a chest X-ray or CT scan, lung function tests or an echocardiogram.

When to See Your Doctor

You should visit your doctor if you experience any shortness of breath that is not expected from an activity and the current state of your fitness or health. If your shortness of breath does not decrease with treatment or is accompanied by other symptoms, such as chest pain, you should get to a hospital immediately.

Treating Shortness of Breath

Shortness of breath treatment depends on the underlying cause and duration of symptoms. Once that is determined, you and your physician can work together to create a treatment plan.

If obesity or poor health is the cause, you will need to make lifestyle changes to manage your shortness of breath. Maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly can go a long way in improving symptoms. Smoking can worsen symptoms or cause complications for any underlying lung disease, so it is important to quit and to avoid secondhand smoke. Similarly, avoiding exposure to pollutants or any known allergy triggers can reduce symptoms.

If another lung condition is causing your shortness of breath, you may want to consult a pulmonologist, or lung specialist. In addition to prescribing medication to treat your disease, they may suggest pulmonary rehabilitation, which can greatly improve quality of life by helping people with chronic conditions safely improve their fitness and learn how to manage their symptoms.

Page last updated: March 9, 2020

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