REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD NEVER NEGLECT SHORTNESS OF BREATH
Shortness of breath is a symptom that can be associated with many conditions, primarily of the heart and lungs. Both of these are incredibly important organs, so it’s never a good idea to ignore shortness of breath or treat it lightly. “The reason for breathlessness is that the body needs more oxygen than it is getting. So, you breathe faster to try to increase the flow of oxygen-rich air into the lungs. From the lungs, oxygen gets into the bloodstream and is pumped around the body by the heart,” adds Dr Parekh.
Breathlessness is usually a gradually progressive symptom. It’s often first noticed during physical activity. For instance, you are no longer able to keep pace with someone while walking or you can’t climb a flight of stairs. Causes of gradually progressive breathlessness include obesity or lack of fitness, obstructive airway diseases like chronic bronchitis, Asthma and even anaemia.
When should one not neglect shortness of breath?
Not all breathlessness develops slowly over time. Sometimes, this difficulty in breathing can be sudden or acute onset and even be severe in nature. Rapidly developing shortness of breath is usually accompanied by other symptoms such as fever and cough (Pneumonia), itching and rash (allergic reaction), wheezing (asthma), chest pain and light-headedness, leg swelling or long travel history (pulmonary embolism).
Shortness of breath should never be taken lightly. Especially if it is moderate to severe and is accompanied by chest pain, light-headedness, leg swelling or changes to colour of your skin – it becomes a medical emergency. It can be a sign of a heart attack or a pulmonary embolism, both of which are life-threatening situations. Pulmonary embolism is a clot in the lung, usually secondary to a blood clot in the leg, which causes a painful, swollen calf. It develops after a period of immobility (for example, a long haul flight) or also in some cancers and blood disorders.
Heart diseases – for example, heart failure where the heart doesn’t pump blood properly, is a major cause of progressive breathlessness as suggested in the findings of the study above. Common causes of heart failure include sudden or long standing coronary blockages, narrowing or leakage of one or more heart valves or heart muscle weakness. Aortic valve stenosis and mitral valve regurgitation are very common causes of shortness of breath in elderly population.