What are the causes of abrupt shortness of breath?

A sudden episode of shortness of breath or dyspnea is a usual concern that urges one to visit a doctor or emergency department.

Generally, it is normal to be out of breath if overexerting, but if breathlessness arises abruptly and unexpectedly, it is a warning indication of a medical ailment.

What are the usual causes of abrupt shortness of breath?

Abrupt and unexpected shortness of breath is likely due to the following conditions:

Airway or lungs issues

  • Sudden shortness of breath might be an asthma attack. In such instances, the airways are constricted and there is increased mucus production. Breathlessness arises since it is difficult to move air in and out of the airways.
  • Pneumonia is generally brought about by an infection that requires treatment with antibiotics.

    Sudden shortness of breath might be an asthma attack.

  • If an individual was diagnosed with COPD, the breathlessness might be an indication that the condition is getting worse.

Heart conditions

It is possible to end up with a “silent” heart attack without any evident symptoms such as chest pain and anxiety. In such cases, the shortness of breath might be the only warning indication of having a heart attack. If this is likely, the doctor will provide aspirin and the individual should be hospitalized right away.

Heart failure can also lead to breathing difficulties. Remember that this is a dangerous condition in which the heart has a hard time propelling enough blood throughout the body since it is too weak or stiff to function properly.

The shortness of breath might be linked to an issue with the heart rate or rhythm such as atrial fibrillation or supraventricular tachycardia.

Panic attack or anxiety

Anxiety or panic attack causes the individual to take in rapid or deep breaths or hyperventilation. It is recommended to concentrate on slow breathing or inhaling via a paper bag to restore the breathing to normal.

What are the causes of long-term breathlessness?

  • Obesity
  • Asthma that is poorly controlled
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Heart failure
  • Anemia – the low level of oxygen in the blood is due to the lack of red blood cells
  • Issues with the heart rhythm or rate

When to consult a doctor

A doctor must be seen right away if the individual has an abrupt episode of shortness of breath since there might be an issue with the heart or airways.

If the individual has been struggling with his/her breathing for some time, it should not be ignored. A doctor must be consulted since it is possible to have a long-term condition such as asthma, obesity of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) that requires proper management.

More Information / Disclaimer

The information posted on this page on shortness of breath is for learning purposes only. Learn more about the causes by taking a standard first aid course with Vancouver First Aid.


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