Causes of shortness of breath and how to overcome it

Shortness of breath is normal if experienced by people who have just done intense exercise, experienced drastic temperature changes, or are at high altitudes. However, if you experience it almost all the time, even when doing light activity or while resting, there could be a health problem that you need to be aware of.

The causes of shortness of breath are not only related to respiratory diseases, but also heart problems, allergies and obesity.

Heart disease causes shortness of breath

Heart failure can cause shortness of breath
Heart failure can cause shortness of breath

Experiencing constant shortness of breath could be a symptom of heart disease. Some heart diseases that can cause shortness of breath include:

1. Heart failure

Heart failure, or sometimes called congestive heart failure, is a condition when the heart is not strong enough to pump blood properly so it cannot meet the body’s needs.

Apart from shortness of breath, heart failure is also characterized by fatigue, swelling in the ankles, soles of the feet and the middle of the body.

2. Tachycardia

Tachycardia is a condition where the heart rate is very fast, usually more than 100 beats per minute in adults. In fact, the normal heartbeat frequency is 60 times per minute for adults. One type of tachycardia that can cause shortness of breath is atrial tachycardia or SVT. This is a condition when the heart’s electrical signals do not fire properly and requires immediate medical attention.

3. Angina

In fact, angina is not a disease, but a symptom in the form of pain or discomfort when blood flow to the heart is reduced. When it occurs, angina is usually accompanied by breathing problems such as shortness of breath and excessive sweating.

Angina can be a sign of a heart problem that requires medical treatment, such as coronary heart disease.

4. Heart attack

A heart attack occurs when something blocks blood flow to the heart, so the heart doesn’t get the oxygen it needs. This is a medical emergency that needs to be treated quickly.

Shortness of breath is one of the symptoms of a heart attack. Apart from that, people who are having a heart attack will also feel pain in the chest and under the sternum, as well as the arms. The pain can also spread to the jaw, throat and back.

5. Atrial fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation is a condition when the heart’s electrical impulses are chaotic, causing irregular heartbeats or palpitations

Apart from a racing heart, AF can also be accompanied by symptoms of shortness of breath, chest pain, fatigue, dizziness or feeling like fainting, and difficulty exercising.

Lung disease causes shortness of breath

Asthma can be a cause of shortness of breath
Asthma can be a cause of shortness of breath

Apart from heart disease, shortness of breath can also be caused by diseases that attack the respiratory tract and lungs, including:

1. Asma

Asthma is a condition when the airways swell and narrow, and produce excessive mucus. This condition makes breathing very difficult and also triggers coughing, whistling sounds when exhaling (wheezing), and shortness of breath.


Shortness of breath can also be caused by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD is a chronic inflammatory lung disease that can cause obstruction of air flow from the lungs. Apart from shortness of breath, other symptoms of COPD are coughing, mucus production (phlegm), and wheezing.

3. Covid-19

Covid-19 is an infectious disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Shortness of breath or shortness of breath is one of the symptoms of Covid-19 apart from fever and cough. This condition can become severe in a short time.

4. Pneumonia

Shortness of breath can be a symptom of pneumonia, inflammation of the air sacs in the lungs. People with this disease will usually cough up phlegm and have a fever, some even shivering.

5. Pulmonary embolism

Pulmonary embolism is a condition where a blood clot blocks the blood vessels in the lungs, thereby stopping blood flow and oxygen supply from entering the lungs. Shortness of breath, shortness of breath, and sharp chest pain are some of the symptoms of pulmonary embolism. In most cases, blood clots originate in the veins in the legs and travel to the lungs.

Other health conditions cause shortness of breath

In many cases, shortness of breath is caused by panic attacks or anxiety due to certain situations, or due to chronic illness. These panic attacks are often mistaken for heart attacks, making the sufferer even more panicked.

If you are not experiencing anxiety or panic, shortness of breath could be caused by certain health conditions, such as:

1. Allergies

This condition occurs when you come into contact with or inhale an allergen, ranging from dust to cold air (cold allergy). Shortness of breath can be a sign of a dangerous allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) that must be treated immediately.

2. Sarcoidosis

This is a rare condition when the body experiences inflammation at various points, such as the lungs, spleen, eyes and skin.

3. Obesity

In people who are overweight or obese, shortness of breath can also occur repeatedly.

If shortness of breath persists continuously, even causing unbearable pain, don’t delay seeing a doctor, so that the cause can be found immediately and appropriate treatment can be obtained.

First aid for shortness of breath

Breathing exercises
Breathing exercises

Treatment for shortness of breath will depend on the cause. As first aid, there are simple steps you can take to relieve shortness of breath, such as:

1. Pursed-lip breathing

This is the simplest technique to relieve shortness of breath or shortness of breath. Start by relaxing your neck and shoulders, then breathe in through your nose, and then slowly exhale through your mouth with your lips in a whistling position.

2. Sit hunched over

If shortness of breath occurs while in a sitting position, try leaning forward on your elbows, then breathe as usual. If there is a table in front of you, lie your head on the table with your arms or pillows.

3. Sleep in a relaxed position

A relaxed position to reduce shortness of breath can be done by lying on your side. Position the pillow higher, so that the head is raised. Additionally, place a pillow between your legs. As an alternative, you can lie on your back with a pillow to support you.

4. Breathe using the diaphragm

The diaphragmatic breathing technique is performed in a sitting position. Make sure your shoulders, head and neck are relaxed. Place your palms on your stomach, breathe slowly through your nose and feel the movement of your stomach as you breathe.

Then, exhale with your mouth in a whistling position, while feeling your stomach contract. Do this technique for at least 5 minutes.