Most cases of shortness of breath are due to heart or lung conditions. Your heart and lungs are involved in transporting oxygen to your tissues and removing carbon dioxide, and problems with either of these processes affect your breathing.

Shortness of breath that comes on suddenly (called acute) has a limited number of causes, including:

  1. Asthma (bronchospasm)
  2. Carbon monoxide poisoning
  3. Cardiac tamponade (excess fluid around the heart)
  4. Hiatal hernia
  5. Heart failure
  6. Low blood pressure (hypotension)
  7. Pulmonary embolism (blood clot in an artery in the lung)
  8. Pneumothorax (collapsed lung)
  9. Pneumonia (pulmonary infection)
  10. Sudden blood loss
  11. Upper airway obstruction (blockage in the breathing passage)

In the case of shortness of breath that has lasted for weeks or longer (called chronic), the condition is most often due to:

  1. Asthma
  2. COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  3. Deconditioning
  4. Heart dysfunction
  5. Interstitial lung disease
  6. Obesity

A number of other health conditions also can make it hard to get enough air. These include:

Lung problems

  1. Croup (in young children)
  2. Lung cancer
  3. Pleurisy (inflammation of the membrane lining the chest)
  4. Pulmonary edema (excess fluid in the lungs)
  5. (scarred and damaged lungs)
  6. Pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure within the lungs' blood vessels)
  7. Sarcoidosis (collections of inflammatory cells in the body)
  8. Tuberculosis

Heart problems

  1. Cardiomyopathy (problem with the heart muscle)
  2. Heart arrhythmias (rhythm problems)
  3. Heart failure
  4. Pericarditis (swelling of the membrane surrounding the heart)

Other problems

  1. Anemia
  2. Broken ribs
  3. Choking: First aid
  4. Epiglottitis (swelling of part of the windpipe)
  5. Foreign object inhaled
  6. Generalized anxiety disorder
  7. Guillain-Barre syndrome
  8. Myasthenia gravis (condition causing muscle weakness)

Causes shown here are commonly associated with this symptom. Work with your doctor or other health care professional for an accurate diagnosis.

Feb. 27, 2016