When to see a doctor

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Seek emergency medical care

Call 911 or your local emergency number or have someone drive you to the emergency room if you experience severe shortness of breath that comes on suddenly and affects your ability to function. Seek emergency medical care if your shortness of breath is accompanied by chest pain, fainting, nausea, a bluish tinge to lips or nails, or a change in mental alertness — as these may be signs of a heart attack or pulmonary embolism.

Make a doctor's appointment

Make an appointment with your doctor if your shortness of breath is accompanied by:

  • Swelling in your feet and ankles
  • Trouble breathing when you lie flat
  • High fever, chills and cough
  • Wheezing
  • Worsening of preexisting shortness of breath


To help keep chronic shortness of breath from getting worse:

  • Stop smoking. Quit smoking, or don't start. Smoking is the leading cause of COPD. If you have COPD, quitting can slow the progression of the disease and prevent complications.
  • Avoid exposure to pollutants. As much as possible, avoid breathing allergens and environmental toxins, such as chemical fumes or secondhand smoke.
  • Avoid extremes in temperature. Activity in very hot and humid or very cold conditions may magnify the dyspnea caused by chronic lung diseases.
  • Have an action plan. If you have a medical condition that causes shortness of breath, discuss with your doctor what to do if your symptoms become worse.
  • Keep elevation in mind. When traveling to areas with higher altitude, take time to adjust and avoid exertion until then.
  • Exercise regularly. Exercise can help improve physical fitness and the ability to tolerate activity. Exercise — along with weight loss if you're overweight — may help decrease any contribution to shortness of breath from deconditioning. Talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program.
  • Take your medications. Skipping medications for chronic lung and cardiac conditions can lead to poorer control of dyspnea.
  • Regularly check your equipment. If you rely on supplemental oxygen, be sure your supply is adequate and the equipment works properly.

From Mayo Clinic to your inbox

Sign up for free, and stay up to date on research advancements, health tips and current health topics, like COVID-19, plus expertise on managing health.

To provide you with the most relevant and helpful information, and understand which information is beneficial, we may combine your email and website usage information with other information we have about you. If you are a Mayo Clinic patient, this could include protected health information. If we combine this information with your protected health information, we will treat all of that information as protected health information and will only use or disclose that information as set forth in our notice of privacy practices. You may opt-out of email communications at any time by clicking on the unsubscribe link in the e-mail.

June 13, 2020

See also

  1. Acute coronary syndrome
  2. Acute kidney failure
  3. Acute lymphocytic leukemia
  4. Acute myelogenous leukemia
  5. Albuterol side effects
  6. Allergies
  7. Allergies and asthma
  8. Allergy medications: Know your options
  9. Allergy-proof your home
  10. Alpha-gal syndrome
  11. Amniotic fluid embolism
  12. Amyloidosis
  13. Anemia
  14. Angina
  15. Angina treatment: Stents, drugs, lifestyle changes — What's best?
  16. Aortic aneurysm
  17. Aortic calcification: An early sign of heart valve problems?
  18. Aortic dissection
  19. Aortic valve regurgitation
  20. Aortic valve stenosis
  21. Aplastic anemia
  22. ARDS
  23. Asbestosis
  24. Ascariasis
  25. Aspergillosis
  26. Aspirin allergy
  27. Asthma
  28. Asthma and acid reflux
  29. Asthma attack
  30. Asthma diet
  31. Asthma inhalers: Which one's right for you?
  32. Asthma: Colds and flu
  33. Asthma medications
  34. Asthma: Testing and diagnosis
  35. Asthma treatment: 3 steps
  36. Asthma treatment: Do complementary and alternative approaches work?
  37. Asthma and menstruation
  38. Atrial fibrillation
  39. Atrial fibrillation and managing stress
  40. Atrial septal defect (ASD)
  41. Automated external defibrillators: Do you need an AED?
  42. Avoid rebound nasal congestion
  43. Blood clots during menstruation: A concern?
  44. Blood tests for heart disease
  45. Mitral valve clip to treat mitral regurgitation: Bob's story
  46. Bradycardia
  47. Mitral valve overview
  48. Adult Congenital Heart Defects
  49. Adult congenital heart disease: What patients and families should know
  50. Aortic Surgery: What Patients Need to Know — Mayo Clinic
  51. Heart disease in women
  52. How kidneys work
  53. Jack Long — Live Long, Beat Strong to Find a Cure
  54. A leaky tricuspid valve
  55. Leaky Valve Cone Procedure
  56. Mayo Clinic offers congenital heart care: Marcus' story
  57. Screenings of newborns and athletes for genetic heart disease
  58. Video: Septal myectomy and apical myectomy
  59. Supraventricular Tachycardia
  60. Treating Pericarditis
  61. Valve problems in children with heart disease: What patients and families should know
  62. Video: Valve-Sparing Aortic Root Replacement
  63. Broken heart: Can grief damage your heart?
  64. Broken heart syndrome
  65. Calcium supplements: A risk factor for heart attack?
  66. COVID-19 and vitamin D
  67. Can vitamins help prevent a heart attack?
  68. Carcinoid tumors
  69. Cardiac asthma: What causes it?
  70. Infographic: Cardiac sarcoidosis: A heart under attack
  71. Cardiogenic shock
  72. Cardiomyopathy
  73. Kinser's story
  74. Caregiving for someone with atrial fibrillation
  75. Central sleep apnea
  76. Chelation therapy for heart disease: Does it work?
  77. Chest pain
  78. Chronic cough
  79. Chronic kidney disease
  80. COPD
  81. Chronic sinusitis
  82. Churg-Strauss syndrome
  83. Coarctation of the aorta
  84. What are congenital heart defects? An expert explains
  85. Congenital heart defects in children
  86. Infographic: Congenital Heart Disease and Lifelong Care
  87. Congenital heart disease in adults
  88. Congenital heart defects FAQs
  89. Anxiety and diet
  90. Coronary artery disease
  91. Coronary artery disease: Angioplasty or bypass surgery?
  92. What is coronary artery disease? A Mayo Clinic cardiologist explains.
  93. Coronary artery disease FAQs
  94. Coronary artery spasm: Cause for concern?
  95. Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)
  96. COVID-19: How can I protect myself?
  97. Herd immunity and coronavirus
  98. COVID-19 and pets
  99. COVID-19 and your mental health
  100. COVID-19, cold, allergies and the flu
  101. COVID-19 drugs: Are there any that work?
  102. Long-term effects of COVID-19
  103. COVID-19 in babies and children
  104. Coronavirus infection by race
  105. COVID-19 travel advice
  106. COVID-19 vaccines for kids: What you need to know
  107. COVID-19 vaccines
  108. COVID-19 variant
  109. COVID-19 vs. flu: Similarities and differences
  110. COVID-19: Who's at higher risk of serious symptoms?
  111. CPAP machines: Tips for avoiding 10 common problems
  112. Craving and chewing ice: A sign of anemia?
  113. Cystic fibrosis
  114. What is cystic fibrosis? A Mayo Clinic expert explains
  115. Cystic fibrosis FAQs
  116. Daily aspirin therapy
  117. Debunking coronavirus myths
  118. Diabetic coma
  119. Diabetic ketoacidosis
  120. Different COVID-19 vaccines
  121. DiGeorge syndrome (22q11.2 deletion syndrome)
  122. Dilated cardiomyopathy
  123. Does atrial fibrillation run in families?
  124. Does honey offer sweet relief for allergies?
  125. Does older age increase the risk of atrial fibrillation?
  126. Drug allergy
  127. Drug-eluting stents
  128. Drummer Beats Heart Disease
  129. Dust mite allergy
  130. Early HIV symptoms: What are they?
  131. Ebstein anomaly
  132. ED Drugs for Pulmonary Hypertension
  133. Egg allergy
  134. Eisenmenger syndrome
  135. Emphysema
  136. Endocarditis
  137. Enlarged heart
  138. Factor V Leiden
  139. Fasting diet: Can it improve my heart health?
  140. Fight coronavirus (COVID-19) transmission at home
  141. Flu Shot Prevents Heart Attack
  142. Flu shots and heart disease
  143. Four Steps to Heart Health
  144. Gangrene
  145. Generalized anxiety disorder
  146. Genetics and Cardiomyopathy
  147. Getting active after acute coronary syndrome
  148. Granulomatosis with polyangiitis
  149. Grass-fed beef
  150. Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome
  151. Healthy eating: One step at a time
  152. Healthy Heart for Life!
  153. Heart arrhythmia
  154. Heart attack
  155. Heart attack prevention: Should I avoid secondhand smoke?
  156. Heart attack symptoms
  157. Heart Attack Timing
  158. Heart disease
  159. Heart disease in women: Understand symptoms and risk factors
  160. Heart failure
  161. Heart failure and sex: Is it safe?
  162. Heart-healthy diet: 8 steps to prevent heart disease
  163. Slide show: Heart-healthy eating after acute coronary syndrome
  164. Heart murmurs
  165. Heart palpitations
  166. Heavy periods: Can folic acid help?
  167. Herbal treatment for anxiety: Is it effective?
  168. Hidden Heart Attack
  169. HIV/AIDS
  170. Holiday Heart
  171. How do COVID-19 antibody tests differ from diagnostic tests?
  172. How does COVID-19 affect people with diabetes?
  173. Infographic: How heart-healthy people can suffer a heart attack
  174. How well do face masks protect against COVID-19?
  175. Hurthle cell cancer
  176. Hyperglycemia in diabetes
  177. Hyperinflated lungs: What does it mean?
  178. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
  179. Infographic: Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy
  180. Mayo Clinic Minute: Identifying and treating atrial fibrillation
  181. Interstitial lung disease
  182. Iron deficiency anemia
  183. What is kidney disease? An expert explains
  184. Kidney disease FAQs
  185. Left ventricular hypertrophy
  186. Legionnaires' disease
  187. Infographic: Living with Atrial Fibrillation
  188. Living with Lupus
  189. Low-phosphorus diet: Helpful for kidney disease?
  190. Lung cancer
  191. Infographic: Lung Cancer
  192. Lung nodules: Can they be cancerous?
  193. Infographic: Lung Transplant for Cystic Fibrosis
  194. Lupus
  195. Lupus: Can it cause hair loss?
  196. Lupus: Can it cause hives?
  197. Lupus affects kidneys
  198. Mayo Clinic Minute: You're washing your hands all wrong
  199. Mayo Clinic Minute: How dirty are common surfaces?
  200. Median arcuate ligament syndrome (MALS)
  201. Menorrhagia (heavy menstrual bleeding)
  202. Menus for heart-healthy eating
  203. Mesothelioma
  204. Mitral valve prolapse
  205. Mitral valve regurgitation
  206. Mitral valve stenosis
  207. MRI: Is gadolinium safe for people with kidney problems?
  208. Myelodysplastic syndromes
  209. Myelofibrosis
  210. Myelofibrosis
  211. Myocardial ischemia
  212. Myocarditis
  213. Nasal Cleaning
  214. Nasal spray addiction: Is it real?
  215. Nocturnal panic attacks: What causes them?
  216. NSAIDs: Do they increase my risk of heart attack and stroke?
  217. Nuts and your heart: Eating nuts for heart health
  218. Sleep apnea, obstructive
  219. Obstructive Sleep Apnea
  220. Omega-3 in fish
  221. Omega-6 fatty acids
  222. Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome
  223. Ozone air purifiers
  224. Panic attacks and panic disorder
  225. Peanut allergy
  226. Pericardial effusion
  227. Pericarditis
  228. Photodynamic therapy: An effective treatment for lung cancer?
  229. Planning to travel with atrial fibrillation?
  230. Pleurisy
  231. Pneumonia
  232. Pneumonitis
  233. Pneumothorax
  234. Polycythemia vera
  235. Polyhydramnios
  236. Polymyositis
  237. Polymyositis: Can it affect my lungs?
  238. Polypill: Does it treat heart disease?
  239. Pregnancy and atrial fibrillation
  240. Pregnancy and COVID-19
  241. PrEP to prevent HIV
  242. Protein: Heart-healthy sources
  243. Pulmonary atresia
  244. Pulmonary edema
  245. Pulmonary embolism
  246. Pulmonary fibrosis
  247. Pulmonary hypertension
  248. Pulmonary valve stenosis
  249. Put fish on the menu
  250. Reactive airway disease: Is it asthma?
  251. Red wine, antioxidants and resveratrol
  252. Renal diet for vegetarians
  253. Researchers Develop New Stents for Complex Aortic Aneurysms
  254. Rheumatic fever
  255. Robotic heart surgery treats mitral regurgitation: Ed's story
  256. Robotic or minimally invasive cardiac surgery for adult-adolescent congenital heart disease
  257. Safe outdoor activities during the COVID-19 pandemic
  258. Safety tips for returning to school during COVID-19
  259. Sarcoidosis
  260. SCAD 2 Social Media as a Lifesaving Link
  261. Scleroderma
  262. Sex and COVID-19
  263. Should I make changes to my diet if I've been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation?
  264. Sick sinus syndrome
  265. Silent heart attack
  266. Sleep apnea
  267. Sleep apnea and caffeine: Any connection?
  268. CPAP masks
  269. Small vessel disease
  270. Somatic symptom disorder
  271. Spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD)
  272. Spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD)
  273. Heart disease prevention
  274. Sudden cardiac arrest
  275. Sudden death in young people: Heart problems often blamed
  276. Sulfa allergy
  277. Super Survivor Conquers Cancer
  278. Tachycardia
  279. Takayasu's arteritis
  280. Test anxiety: Can it be treated?
  281. Tetralogy of Fallot
  282. Tetralogy of Fallot
  283. Thalassemia
  284. Thoracic aortic aneurysm
  285. Thyroid nodules
  286. Transposition of the great arteries
  287. Treating COVID-19 at home
  288. Tricuspid atresia
  289. Tricuspid valve regurgitation
  290. Trouble breathing
  291. Tuberous sclerosis
  292. Unusual symptoms of coronavirus
  293. Ventricular fibrillation
  294. Ventricular septal defect (VSD)
  295. Asthma attack video
  296. Video: Heart and circulatory system
  297. CPAP: How it works
  298. Dry powder disk inhaler
  299. Dry powder tube inhaler
  300. Video: How to use a peak flow meter
  301. Single-dose dry powder inhaler
  302. Mitral valve regurgitation
  303. Using a metered dose asthma inhaler and spacer
  304. Obstructive sleep apnea: What happens?
  305. Vitamin deficiency anemia
  306. Vocal cord dysfunction
  307. Von Willebrand disease
  308. Walking pneumonia
  309. Heart failure action plan
  310. What is aspirin-exacerbated respiratory disease (AERD)?
  311. What is meant by the term "heart age"?
  312. Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) syndrome
  313. Infographic: Women and Heart Disease
  314. Effectively managing chronic kidney disease