Is Shortness Of Breath A Heart Or Lung Problem?

Shortness of breath or Dyspnea can be a difficult symptom to live with. It is shortness of breath that signals the onset of many lung conditions, and shortness of breath can also signal heart problems as well.

This article will talk about what shortness of breath means and how it relates to both lung and heart problems.

It’s kind of tricky to differentiate between heart and lung conditions behind dyspnea, but you can still come to a verdict by checking the associated symptoms with shortness of breath e.g. chest pain, fever, or cough. Fever and coughs are almost always associated with lung conditions where chest pain can be both cardiac & non-cardiac.

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What Is  Shortness Of Breath?

Simply put, shortness of breath is breathing problem or difficulty with breathing. People who suffer from shortness of breath will often complain that they feel like they can’t get a deep enough breath, and some people also describe shortness of breath as feeling like there’s something stuck in their throat or chest when trying to take a full breath.

According to the Merck Manual, shortness of breath is one of the most common complaints that patients go to their doctor with. Many people may refer to shortness of breath as breathing trouble or respiratory distress.

This may happen because shortness of breath affects the respiratory system and makes it hard for a person to get enough oxygen into their lungs or the blood oxygen levels are low.

Shortness of breath is often relieved by taking an inhaler or by using an OPEP device such as AirPhysio. But if you have other triggering factors causing this situation, you may have to find out the underlying cause.

Causes Of Shortness Of Breath

Not only heart or lung, but dyspnea can also happen due to the dysfunction of any other organ, such as the brain, spine, or kidneys, it may happen because of tumors present in the brain and spine, as well as blood clots that are blocking off an artery to one part of your body. Shortness of breath can also happen due to psychological problems and even due to poisoning too!

According to UCLA’s Lung Cancer Center shortness of breath is a common symptom for patients with lung cancer and shortness of breath can also mean that cancer has spread to other parts of the body and is not limited to just lungs.

Here are some common diseases associated with Dyspnea-

  • Asthma
  • COPD
  • Lung Cancer
  • Pneumonia
  • Bronchiolitis
  • Heart Failure
  • Pulmonary Embolism
  • Myocardial Infarction

Below are some other conditions associated with shortness of breath:

  • Brain Tumor
  • Spine Disease (such as Spinal Cord Compression) and other diseases related to the spine such as tumors, fractures, etc.
  • Kidney disease: Shortness of breath is associated with either decreased kidney function or fluid overload.
  • Psychological conditions: shortness of breath is also associated with psychological conditions, such as anxiety or panic attacks.
  • Poisoning (for example carbon monoxide poisoning) shortness of breath can be a sign of this dangerous condition due to the fact that breathing in too much carboxyhemoglobin- which occurs when CO binds to hemoglobin- results in shortness of breath.

Is Shortness Of Breath A Heart Or Lung Problem?

As you can see, shortness of breath or dyspnea may happen due to both heart and lung problems. Most emergency heart or lung conditions have this common symptom, and it’s alarming. Now the question is, how can we differentiate between the causative factors of this symptom?

Is Shortness Of Breath A Heart Or Lung Problem 1

You can quickly assess your condition if the dyspnea is associated with chest pain or other symptoms like fever or cough. As for chest pain, there are some significant differences between cardiac and non-cardiac chest pains. Such as, cardiac pains will be central, choking, radiating to the left shoulder/ left hand, and relieved by taking Nitroglycerin spray under the tongue.

On the other hand, non-cardiac pains are often dull, peripheral, non-radiating, and most importantly, not relieved by taking Nitroglycerin spray. So if you have chest pain associated with dyspnea, you can easily determine the underlying cause by assessing the type of chest pain.

Figure: Mechanism of dyspnea in Asthma

As for fever and cough, both of them are almost always associated with lung diseases. Pneumonia is commonly associated with moderate grade fever where Tuberculosis is associated with low-grade fever.

How can my doctor manage shortness of breath?

Your doctor will help you manage dyspnea by first identifying and then treating the condition causing your breathing trouble. Depending on the underlying condition, your treatment may include:

  • Exercise: Improving your physical fitness can strengthen your heart and lungs. Better overall health can help you feel less winded during activity. Even with a heart or lung condition, cardiovascular rehabilitation might help. The provider might also suggest that you learn breathing techniques.
  • Medication: Inhaled drugs called bronchodilators can relax your airways in asthma and in COPD. Medication to relieve pain or anxiety can ease breathlessness.
  • Oxygen therapy: Receiving extra oxygen through a mask or tube in the nostrils can help you breathe more comfortably. This is only appropriate when the blood oxygen level is measured by a healthcare professional and shown to be low.

How will a doctor determine what is causing my shortness of breath?

Tests might include:

  • Physical exam: This would cover things like taking your temperature and listening to your chest. A fever could indicate an infection.
  • Pulse oximetry: A provider uses a finger sensor to see how much oxygen you have in your blood.
  • Chest X-ray, CT scans or other special imaging tests: These would suggest a cause of breathlessness if you do not already have a diagnosis of a chronic condition.
  • Blood tests: These could show anemia, infections and other conditions.
  • Lung function tests: These tests indicate how well you are breathing.
  • Cardiopulmonary exercise testing: These tests indicate the volume of oxygen taken in and carbon dioxide let out during exercise performed on treadmills or stationary bikes.

Home Treatments for Shortness of Breath

Shortness of breath is something that should never be neglected. You should always seek the help of a doctor if the dyspnea doesn’t go away or if shortness of breath is associated with other symptoms like chest pain, fever/cough.

If you don’t have any severe underlying condition and shortness of breath happens due to anxiety or panic attack, there are some home remedies that can help relieve your breathing trouble:

Home Treatments for Shortness of Breath

Avoid caffeinated products such as coffee and tea.

Try to stop smoking and reduce alcohol intake to get rid of shortness of breath associated with anxiety or panic attacks.

Avoid triggers such as dust, pollen, perfumes, etc., that can trigger shortness of breath in some sensitive people.

Daily breathing exercises or appropriate breathing techniques will help you strengthen your respiratory muscles so the shortness of breath doesn’t come back again!

Another amazing way to relieve shortness of breath at home is using a lung exercising device such as AirPhysio. AirPhysio is a non-invasive, drug-free, and comfortable device that can help you open up your blocked airways by forcing them to close, thus shortness of breath is relieved.

This device utilizes the OPEP (Oscillating Positive Expiratory Pressure) technology that facilitates secretion mobilization and maximizes the lung volume to prevent atelectasis. It’s incredibly easy to use & clean and doesn’t have any major side effects.

When To Call A Doctor

As we were saying, shortness of breath is an alarming sign for several emergency conditions like Status Asthmaticus, Pneumonia, Acute Exacerbation Of COPD (Usually appears as severe shortness of breath at night in a known COPD patient) or Myocardial Infarction. So you should definitely see a doctor if it’s something serious.

However, shortness of breath doesn’t always mean an emergency medical condition. The most important thing to know is that shortness of breath that comes on suddenly and out-of-the-blue may be life-threatening!

So you should definitely call a doctor if shortness of breath happens without any trigger or it’s associated with other symptoms like chest pain/fever/cough mentioned earlier in this blog post.

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute shortness of breath may also be caused by heart problems like Congestive Heart Failure (CHF). Other possible causes for shortness of breath are asthma, respiratory diseases such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or Emphysema, anemia.

If you have shortness of breath due to any underlying condition mentioned above, you should definitely see a doctor because it’s important to determine the cause behind this symptom in order to treat it accordingly! Once the dyspnea is gone completely then that means your shortness of breath treatment has been successful!

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I know if I’m not getting enough oxygen?

You’ll know your body is not having enough oxygen when you’ll feel dizzy or lightheaded. Poor perfusion of oxygen to the brain can lead to certain conditions like syncope too.

What are the causes of shortness of breath in infants?

Shortness of breath is not an uncommon scenario for infants especially when they have congenital anomalies or birth difficulties. Congenital cyanotic diseases like Atrial Septal Defect or Ventricular Septal Defect, or birth difficulties like perinatal asphyxia are the most common causes of dyspnea in infants.

How can I check my oxygen level at home?

You can easily check your blood oxygen level at home using a pulse oximeter, which will show you the level of oxygen saturation in your blood. Hence, you can easily assess the level of hypoxia you have right now.

How can I raise my oxygen level quickly?

You can instantly raise your oxygen level by changing your posture (i.e. Propped up or sitting position) or taking an inhaler or OPEP device such as AirPhysio if you’re an asthma patient. Taking antioxidant-rich food and trying aerobic exercises have been proven to increase oxygen levels too.

How bad is an oxygen level of 90?

If your pulse oximeter shows an oxygen saturation level of 90, it means you’re in a mild hypoxic state. The normal oxygen saturation level in blood is 94%-100%, so don’t forget to take proper action if your oxygen level falls below that.

Conclusion

Dyspnea is indeed something that shouldn’t be overlooked, it may imply a severe underlying condition that needs to be addressed as soon as possible. So, the next time you encounter shortness of breath, don’t ignore it and get in touch with a doctor immediately. Don’t forget to try out the AirPhysio device & follow our home remedies for a quick relief too! Stay alert!

Last Updated on January 26, 2022 by Mark

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