Shortness of breath

Shortness of breath might not be anything to worry about, but sometimes it can be serious and you'll need to get medical help.

Immediate action required: Call 999 if:

You're struggling to breathe or you have sudden shortness of breath and:

  • your chest feels tight or heavy
  • you have pain that spreads to your arms, back, neck and jaw
  • you feel sick or are being sick

You could be having a heart attack or a problem with your lungs or airway.

Call 999 immediately as you need treatment in hospital.

Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:

You have shortness of breath and:

  • it's lasted longer than a month
  • it gets worse when you've been active
  • it gets worse when you lie down
  • you've been coughing for 3 weeks or more
  • you have swollen ankles

It's important to get medical advice to make sure it's nothing serious. You're not wasting anyone's time by getting it checked out.

Causes of shortness of breath

Shortness of breath has lots of different causes.

Common causes include:

But sometimes shortness of breath could be a sign of something more serious, such as:

Any treatment you may need depends on what's causing your symptoms.

Do not try to self-diagnose the cause of shortness of breath – always see a GP.


Coping with shortness of breath

If you know what's causing your shortness of breath, you can get advice about things you and other people can do to help.

Page last reviewed: 20 October 2020
Next review due: 20 October 2023