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 or go to A&E immediately if:
You have severe difficulty breathing 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're coughing up blood
- you have pain or swelling in 1 of your legs
You could be having a heart attack or a problem with your lungs or airway.
Call 999 or go to A&E immediately as you need treatment in hospital.
Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:
- you are feeling short of breath regularly
- your shortness of breath gets worse when you've been doing your normal activities, or when you lie down
- you feel short of breath and have swollen ankles
- you've been coughing for 3 weeks or more
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:
- a chest infection
- being overweight
- a panic attack
But sometimes shortness of breath could be a sign of something more serious, such as:
- a lung condition called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- scarring of the lungs known as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis
- heart failure
- lung cancer
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