Shortness of breath can be a frightening and serious symptom that is often the complication of a more severe, underlying health condition. In the majority of cases, these conditions are those affecting the heart or lungs and require medical attention, an appropriate diagnosis and effective treatment to help safeguard health and prevent complications. Furthermore, as a key symptom associated with COVID-19, shortness of breath is a problem which is particularly worrisome and should never be ignored.
What Causes Shortness of Breath?
Shortness of breath occurs when there is a disruption somewhere in the process of delivering oxygen throughout the body and removing carbon dioxide. This disruption may be sudden (acute) or it may develop gradually over time. In either case, there are many potential causes, some more serious than others. They can include:
- Allergic reaction
- Heart attack
- Heart failure
- Pulmonary embolism
- COVID-19 or other respiratory virus
When Should You Seek Help for Shortness of Breath?
While not all causes of shortness of breath indicate a life-threatening problem, there can be some serious consequences to leaving the issue unchecked. Conditions like heart failure that could be hiding behind such symptoms require early intervention to prevent worsening and detrimental health effects. In short, there are a few guidelines that can help you determine whether your shortness of breath requires immediate, emergency treatment or if it warrants scheduling an appointment with your physician.
- Seek immediate care if…
You should seek emergency care for your shortness of breath it comes on suddenly or is accompanied by additional symptoms such as chest pain, nausea, fainting, mental fogginess, or a bluish hue to the lips, fingertips or toes.
- Schedule an appointment if…
You may not require emergency care but should still see your physician if your shortness of breath is ongoing or accompanied by additional symptoms such as swelling in the legs or feet, increased breathing difficulty when lying flat, fever, or cough.
If you are suffering from shortness of breath, whether sudden or long-term, understanding the underlying causes is of critical importance. In some cases, the guidance and expertise of a specialist such as cardiologist may be needed. Our team of cardiologists at Cardiovascular Institute of the South is here to help. Whether you are a new or returning patient, click below to get started with an appointment.