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What are the implications of breathlessness?

It’s sometimes a struggle to describe breathlessness, because it’s not totally clear how badly it’s affecting you. It’s not like being pregnant, or having chest pain: We all get breathless from time to time, depending on the exercise that we do. For instance, when I was a young doctor, I used to supervise exercise tolerance tests using a treadmill. I guarantee that everybody, even some of my more macho colleagues felt breathless by the end.

So: How do you know if you’re breathless? The easiest way to tell is if there’s a noticeable change in the symptom. Perhaps you’re unable to complete activities you were able to before. For example, you might start to struggle on stairs, or have to take a longer route whilst shopping to avoid a hill, or something similar. One patient recently told me that they could no longer sing in their church choir (her son was quite relieved but that’s a different matter). However, breathlessness indicating illness can occur in more unusual situations, like when you’re in bed or lying flat.

Frequently the cause of breathlessness is simple, but not necessarily simple to fix. It often occurs in people who are overweight or anaemic, or simply unfit as the result of a period of inactivity. That said, in some circumstances, it can be a sign of heart or lung disease, so if your breathing changes it really is worth getting checked out by your GP, especially if there’s a history of heart disease or smoking in the family.

Dr Woldman is always happy to talk to you about breathlessness or related symptoms if you’re worried, or even if you just want some peace of mind. To book an appointment with him, or to find out more about his professional and medical profile, click below.

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