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Shortness of breath

How can I tell if shortness of breath is cardiac?

Shortness of breath and the sensation of running out of air may be related to heart disease. However, the symptoms may also be caused by other than cardiac reasons. Many diseases involve shortness of breath during exertion. Cardiovascular diseases that may cause the symptom include heart failure, coronary artery disease and pulmonary vascular diseases.

Heart failure is a syndrome caused by a cardiovascular disease that needs to be diagnosed. In heart failure, the pumping capacity of the left ventricle of the heart deteriorates. The symptoms usually develop gradually. First, the symptoms only occur sporadically in conjunction with intense exertion. Heart failure patients’ feet swell easily and the patients’ tolerance of physical exertion is impaired owing to shortness of breath and muscle fatigue. The symptoms may become more intense later and occur even during very mild exertion until, eventually, the patient experiences shortness of breath even when inactive. Shortness of breath when lying down and anxiety attacks at night are symptoms of severe heart failure. Nightly anxiety attacks may also lead to heavy coughing, colloquially known as ‘cardiac coughing’ in Finnish. Reasons for shortness of breath other than cardiac ones include pulmonary causes such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and pulmonary embolism. Poor physical condition and obesity may also render breathing difficult and laborious.

Shortness of breath – when to seek treatment?

The symptoms of chronic heart failure usually develop gradually. The cause of shortness of breath in conjunction with exertion must always be examined. Patients should seek treatment within a few weeks of detecting the beginning of symptoms through their personal doctor or a cardiologist. The reason for sudden, intense shortness of breath must be examined quickly and treatment must be sought immediately. If you experience intense shortness of breath for no particular reason, dial the general emergency number, 112, to call an ambulance. In acute heart failure, shortness of breath intensifies quickly because the heart does not have the energy to pump out sufficiently blood. This results in severe congestion, i.e., pulmonary edema. In treating shortness of breath, it is essential that the patient is lifted into a sitting or half‑sitting position to quickly facilitate breathing and increase oxygen supply. Correct treatment administered by the paramedics and hospital staff usually makes the symptoms subside quickly. Tays Heart Hospital will then immediately begin treating the disease underlying the shortness of breath.

It is always important to examine the cause of shortness of breath.