Shortness of Breath

Shortness of breath (dyspnea) is a worrisome symptom and has many acute and chronic causes. Follow this chart for more information about the diseases and conditions in which shortness of breath occurs.

Our trusted Symptom Checker is written and reviewed by physicians and patient education professionals. Find a possible diagnosis by choosing a symptom and answering a few simple questions.

Remember, be sure to consult with you doctor if you feel you have a serious medical problem.

Step 2

Answering Questions

  • Is the person an infant or child?

  • Do you have a fever with the shortness of breath?

  • Do you have sudden, severe shortness of breath with chest pain or tightness?

  • Do you have episodes of shortness of breath along with wheezing and/or coughing?

  • Have you been exposed to years of fumes, dust or cigarette smoke and has the shortness of breath been slowly getting worse?

  • Have you worked in or around asbestos, wood dust, industrial fumes or in a coal mine?

  • Are your feet and ankles swollen, and is it harder to breathe when you lie down flat?

  • Are you tired all the time and do you have a dry cough, possibly with chest pain, and does your shortness of breath get worse when you exercise or do other physical activity?

  • Are you tired all the time, and do you look pale?

  • Are you breathing rapidly, feeling dizzy, or having numbness or tingling in your hands or around your mouth?

  • Do you have a fever and a painful cough with blood in the mucus?

  • Do you have a fever with flu or cold symptoms and a cough that produces mucus?

  • Do you have a fever, dry cough and chest pain and are you losing weight?

  • Do you have a high fever, chest pain, chills and a cough that produces a pus-like material?

Step 3

Possible Causes

  • See Shortness of Breath in Infants and Children
  • Diagnosis

    You may be having a HEART ATTACK, or you may have a PNEUMOTHORAX, a condition in which air gets between the lungs and the chest wall, or a PULMONARY EMBOLISM, in which a blood clot may have moved from a leg to the lungs, or ATELECTASIS, a collapsed lung.


    Self Care

    EMERGENCY
    Go to the emergency room or call 911 right away.


  • Diagnosis

    You may have ASTHMA or an INFECTION that causes narrowing of the bronchial tubes.


    Self Care

    URGENT
    If symptoms are severe, see your doctor or go to the emergency room right away. If you have been diagnosed with asthma, use a quick-relief inhaler and keep taking your controller medicine. Treat infections with over-the-counter cold medicines such as a decongestant. If symptoms get worse or don’t get better, for either of these conditions, see your doctor as soon as possible.


  • Diagnosis

    You may have CHRONIC OBSTRUCTIVE PULMONARY DISEASE (COPD), a lung disease that includes CHRONIC BRONCHITIS and EMPHYSEMA.


    Self Care

    See your doctor as soon as possible.


  • Diagnosis

    You may have OCCUPATIONAL LUNG DISEASE.


    Self Care

    Stop smoking if you smoke (it will only make your problem worse). Talk to your employer, if possible, and see your doctor right away.


  • Diagnosis

    You may have CONGESTIVE HEART FAILURE, which can cause fluid to build up in the lungs and feet.


    Self Care

    See your doctor right away.


  • Diagnosis

    You may have INTERSTITIAL LUNG DISEASE or SARCOIDOSIS, both of which can cause scarring of the lungs, or PULMONARY HYPERTENSION, narrowing of the arteries that carry blood to the lungs.


    Self Care

    See your doctor right away.


  • Diagnosis

    You may have ANEMIA, a condition in which the body doesn’t get enough oxygen due to insufficient red blood cells.


    Self Care

    Anemia can often be treated by including more iron in your diet, but see your doctor for diagnosis.


  • Diagnosis

    These are symptoms of HYPERVENTILATION, an episode of overbreathing usually caused by exercise or emotional distress.


    Self Care

    Breathe through pursed lips (as if you are blowing out a candle) or cover your mouth and one nostril, breathing through the other nostril. If you don’t get better after several minutes or you are in pain, go to the emergency room right away.


  • Diagnosis

    You may have an INFECTION or a more serious problem such as LUNG CANCER or PULMONARY EMBOLISM.


    Self Care

    If you have blood in your mucus, see your doctor right away.


  • Diagnosis

    You may have BRONCHITIS, an infection of the bronchial tree in the lungs, or PNEUMONIA, a serious lung infection.


    Self Care

    If you have a high fever, are having a lot of trouble breathing, or if your lips or fingernails are bluish or gray, call your doctor right away. For less severe symptoms, use over-the-counter cough, cold and flu medicines. See your doctor if the symptoms get worse or if you don’t get better.


  • Diagnosis

    You may have HISTOPLASMOSIS, an INFECTION caused by a FUNGUS.


    Self Care

    See your doctor.


  • Diagnosis

    You may have a LUNG ABSCESS caused by an INFECTION.


    Self Care

    URGENT
    See your doctor right away.


  • Diagnosis


    Self Care

    URGENT
    See your doctor right away.