Becoming breathless as a result of exercising or being unusually active is perfectly normal. However, if your breathlessness is worrying you or affecting your life, you should seek medical attention.
If you’re suddenly struggling to breathe, or have chest pain when breathing, you have acute breathlessness. Seek urgent medical attention as there might be a serious problem with your heart, lungs or airways.
If you’ve gradually become breathless, you have long-term (chronic) breathlessness, which can be a symptom of an underlying condition.
Acute breathlessness can be a symptom of:
Chronic breathlessness, including shortness of breath doing everyday activities such as walking, can be a symptom of several conditions, including:
These conditions can affect you at any age. If you’re a smoker, you’re more likely to develop lung and heart conditions. If you’re very young or very elderly, you’re at a greater risk of pneumonia and heart failure.
Talk to your doctor if you're concerned about symptoms.
If you’ve had breathing problems for some time, make an appointment to see your GP. Your GP will ask about:
Your GP will also check your blood pressure and examine your heart and lungs. They may also do blood tests to check for anaemia, an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) or heart failure.
Your GP may refer you for further investigations, such as a chest X-ray or lung function tests. In some cases, your GP may refer you to a consultant in respiratory or heart medicine.
Seek immediate medical attention if you’re suddenly struggling to breathe or have chest pain when breathing.
You can help improve your breathing and reduce the risk of further breathing problems and shortness of breath by:
Breathlessness can usually be effectively treated with lifestyle changes, medication or, sometimes, surgery.
Your treatment will depend on the underlying cause of your breathing problems. Your doctor will discuss your treatment options with you and, after considering your health and preferences, decide which is best.