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There are different types of heart problems like coronary artery disease, congenital heart failure and cardiomyopathy, but their warning signs are the same i.e. shortness of breath. This is the reason why shortness of breath should never be taken lightly and should always be investigated for heart diseases.
Why does shortness of breath happen?
You may not be able to get in enough air while experiencing shortness of breath. Known medically as dyspnea, shortness of breath is often described as an intense tightening in the chest and a feeling of suffocation. This is one of the most frightening conditions experienced by a patient. You can experience dyspnea without any serious medical problems in these conditions
- After strenuous exercise
- In extreme temperatures
- Due to obesity and
- In high altitudes
But if you are not in any of these conditions, then shortness of breath is a sign of a serious medical problem usually involving your heart or lungs. These two vital organs transport oxygen to the rest of your body and remove carbon dioxide; hence problems with either of these organs can affect your breathing. Shortness of breath that comes on suddenly called acute, can be due to other causes too like:
- Excess fluid around the heart
- Low BP
- Heart failure
- Blood clot in an artery in the lung
- Collapsed lung
If you have had shortness of breath that has lasted for weeks, then we call it chronic and its causes can be various diseases of the heart apart from asthma and COPD. There is no doubt that your heart may be in trouble, if you have chronic shortness of breath. You may be suffering from these heart conditions:
- Cardiomyopathy or problems with the heart muscle cause symptoms like shortness of breath after physical exertion as well as fatigue, and swelling of legs and abdomen. Patients suffering from cardiomyopathy are at risk of sudden death due to cardiac arrest.
- Heart arrhythmias is also called irregular heartbeat, and can cause slow or fast heartbeats. These also have symptoms like shortness of breath. Arrhythmias can cause strokes, heart failure and cardiac arrest.
- Heart failure occurs when the heart is unable to pump blood efficiently to meet the needs of the body. This is a potentially fatal condition. One of the most common symptom is shortness of breath with exercise and while lying down. Fatigue is another common symptom.
- Pericarditis or swelling of membranes around the heart is also characterised by shortness of breath.
Treatment of breathlessness can start after you are referred to a heart specialist for further tests to confirm the likely cause.