Should I Be Worried If I Have Shortness of Breath?
Shortness of breath (or dyspnea) is a fairly common medical complaint, responsible for about 3.4 million emergency department visits a year in the United States. It’s also a common symptom associated with several medical problems — some more serious than others.
Like any medical problem, identifying the root cause of shortness of breath is essential for making sure you get the right treatment. And to do that, you need to have your lung function evaluated.
At Medical Access, our team offers pulmonary testing to evaluate how well your lungs are working, along with other evaluations, testing, and lab work to find the cause of dyspnea. If you have shortness of breath, here's how to tell if it could be related to something serious.
Common causes of shortness of breath
Your lungs play an essential role in taking in oxygen and releasing it to your bloodstream, so it can nourish your organs and tissues. Shortness of breath typically happens when your lungs aren’t able to take in enough air or extract oxygen the way they should.
Sometimes, shortness of breath happens after a period of strenuous activity, simply because you aren’t used to that level of physical work. Anxiety can also cause your breathing to become rapid and shallow.
In those instances, shortness of breath typically resolves on its own, and isn’t something that needs prompt medical care. But other times, shortness of breath is a symptom of a more serious medical problem, like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, lung cancer, or heart disease.
Anytime you have chronic or recurring bouts of dyspnea, it’s important to call the office and ask about lung function testing. You should also call the office if shortness of breath worsens or if it’s is accompanied by:
- Fever or chills
- Persistent cough
- Difficulty breathing while lying down
- Swelling in your feet or lower legs
- Worsening symptoms
Acute shortness of breath accompanied by chest pain, fainting, or nausea can be a sign of a heart attack and requires immediate medical attention.
How pulmonary testing works
Our team offers several types of tests to measure different aspects of lung function. Some tests measure the capacity of your lungs — how much air your lungs can hold. Other tests measure how well you can empty your lungs when you breathe out forcefully.
Still other tests measure how well your lungs work when you inhale special medications called bronchodilators. If these medications work to open up your airways and improve lung function, it could mean you have a medical condition that affects your lungs directly, like asthma or COPD.
Depending on your other symptoms, your doctor might recommend blood tests to measure the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood or chest X-rays to look at your lungs and your heart.
Make lung health a priority
Lung function testing is available at our practices in Germantown, Rockville, and Beltsville, Maryland, and Alexandria, Woodbridge, and McLean, Virginia. After your test, you can go right back to your regular routines, making having a test even more convenient.
No matter what’s causing your shortness of breath, one thing’s for sure: You should not ignore your symptoms. To find out how we can help, book an appointment online or over the phone with the team at Medical Access today.