Which causes shortness of breath when exerted

Difficulty breathing: When the left side of the heart weakens the lungs

Both left heart failure and mitral valve regurgitation (which also occurs in the left half of the heart) have a negative effect on lung performance. Those affected have difficulty breathing (dyspnoea), which can range from shortness of breath to difficulty breathing. The reason: With left heart failure, the heart is no longer able to pump enough oxygen-rich blood from the lungs into the body's vascular system. As a result, the performance of those affected is generally limited and they quickly feel exhausted. In addition, the reduced pumping capacity means that the blood can no longer be adequately transported out of the lungs and accumulates there. The back pressure causes fluid to escape from the blood into the surrounding tissue, which restricts the uptake of oxygen into the blood. This manifests itself as shortness of breath, shortness of breath or coughing, especially during exercise. Initially, the patient only has difficulty breathing and a racing heart when the patient is under greater exertion (e.g. climbing stairs), later the symptoms also appear at rest. Those affected often suffer from coughing attacks even at night.

The cause of this form of shortness of breath is congestive bronchitis (asthma cardiale), which manifests itself in the so-called "heart cough".

Shortness of breath due to a weak heart: Tips for everyday life

  • Take your time with the tasks that need to be done.
  • Take a breather every now and then, whether it's gardening, climbing stairs or cycling.
  • Don't put pressure on yourself when planning appointments and activities.
  • If you get bad air while lying down, raise your headboard while sleeping, for example by stacking several pillows on top of each other. In addition, inform your doctor about the symptoms; your medication may not be properly adjusted.
  • If the shortness of breath worsens or occurs more frequently, talk to your doctor about it.

Diagnosis important

Difficulty breathing can be a warning sign of a life-threatening illness. In order to determine for sure whether your shortness of breath is an indication of existing left heart failure and to rule out other possible causes, the doctor will ask you about other symptoms and conduct a comprehensive examination. Noisy breathing (wheezing, whistling, humming) can also indicate asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). However, if the shortness of breath occurs with symptoms such as jugular vein congestion or edema, the cause is definitely to be found in the heart failure. Examination methods such as blood count, EKG, ultrasound and lung function tests provide further information.

If your throat constricts: Tips for acute shortness of breath

  • If possible, open the windows. Fresh air contains more oxygen and makes breathing easier.
  • Take a sitting position that relieves the chest, for example the so-called coachman's seat: To do this, place your bent arms on your thighs while sitting. The weight of the arms is no longer on the chest and the muscles that contribute to breathing can work better.
  • Try to stay calm because when you are more relaxed your breathing will usually return to normal more quickly.
  • Carry emergency medication with you and deposit it at home in a place known to everyone.
  • Discuss what to do in an emergency with your family members so that everyone knows what to do.
  • Acute shortness of breath combined with chest pain and nausea can be a sign of a heart attack! Relatives or bystanders please call the emergency number immediately!


Author: Andrea Böttcher, medproduction GmbH, www.medproduction.de

Date: May 2018




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