There are some things in life that take our breath away: Sunsets, a perfect 30-foot putt, even a slice of delectable fresh strawberry pie. Although life has its share of breathtaking moments, living with a shortness of breath is not a normal (or permanent) part of aging.
There are a variety of reasons why we are caught a little winded from time to time. But, sometimes a shortness of breath can mean something more serious. “Having trouble breathing could be a sign that a person needs more exercise, or it could be a symptom of a more serious health problem,” said Brad Heal, director of rehabilitation at Desert Terrace Healthcare Center.
Here are some conditions that could cause shortness of breath, and when you should see a doctor.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is one of the most common causes of shortness of breath in older adults. COPD is not a single condition, but rather a group of diseases that cause trouble breathing. The term includes diseases such as asthma, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis. Symptoms of COPD include increasing shortness of breath, frequent coughing, wheezing and chest tightness. Any of these symptoms should prompt a visit with a healthcare provider.
Related link: COPD Doesn’t Have To Take The Wind Out Of Your Sails
2. Heart failure
Several factors can contribute to heart failure, which can be ongoing or come on suddenly. Shortness of breath may be a sign of heart failure, as are an irregular heartbeat, fatigue, a persistent cough, fluid retention and other indicators. Call a doctor if you have these symptoms, or if you already have heart failure and symptoms begin to get worse.
Your shortness of breath could also be attributed to anemia, a condition in which the body does not have enough healthy red blood cells. The hundreds of types of anemia can be caused by blood loss, faulty red blood cell production or the destruction of red blood cells. A common sign of many kinds of anemia is shortness of breath, especially with exercise. Other signs include fatigue, rapid heartbeat, dizziness, and leg cramps.
4. Heart attack
Related link: Acting FAST When Signs Of Stroke Occurs
A heart attack may not be the first thing you think of when you can’t catch your breath, but it should be high on the list. Symptoms of a heart attack include chest discomfort, discomfort in other areas of the upper body, lightheadedness, and shortness of breath. The shortness of breath can come with or without chest discomfort, so don’t dismiss a heart attack because you only feel shortness of breath. Time is critical with a heart attack, so call 911 right away if you have any of these symptoms.
When to see a doctor
Aside from these conditions, there can be many causes for a shortness of breath. You should see a doctor if you ever have trouble breathing, especially if the shortness of breath is not expected with whatever activity you are doing or your level of physical health. Trouble breathing that gets worse, or doesn’t get better, and gets in the way of daily activities should be checked out.
Struggling for breath is not a normal part of aging, and it shouldn’t be taken lightly. If you notice that you are having a harder time getting enough air, it’s time to talk to your doctor.
A version of this article was originally published by the Daily Herald.