You breathe in and out thousands of times a day and rarely give it a thought -- until it starts to feel hard. Breathing problems can happen for many reasons, like being out of shape, congestion, fever, or asthma. But in some cases, they’re a sign that something is wrong with your heart.
Whatever the reason, always take breathing issues seriously. Tell your doctor so they can help you figure out the cause. And if your problem is sudden and severe, you should get medical help right away.
Heart Problems That Affect Your Breathing
Heart failure (sometimes called congestive heart failure). Even though “failure” is in the name, it doesn’t mean that your heart stops beating. It means that it’s not serving the needs of your body. Shortness of breath and feeling tired can be signs of the condition. Often people also have swelling in their ankles, feet, legs, and mid-section because the heart is not strong enough to pump blood properly.
In the early stages of heart failure, you may have trouble breathing after exercise, getting dressed, or walking across a room. But as the heart gets weaker, you may feel breathless even when you lie down. See your doctor if that’s happening to you. They can recommend medicines and treatments that can help.
Tachycardia is a fast heart rate -- usually more than 100 beats per minute in an adult. There are several kinds, but one that may cause shortness of breath is SVT, or atrial tachycardia. In SVT, the heart rate speeds up because the heart’s electrical signals don’t fire properly. People who have SVT and are short of breath should get medical help right away. Your doctor may recommend other things that can help, too, like quitting smoking and drinking less coffee and alcohol.
Pulmonary edema. This condition means there’s extra fluid in your lungs, which makes it hard to breathe. It’s usually caused by heart problems. If the heart is ill or damaged, it cannot pump out enough of the blood it gets from the lungs. When that happens, pressure in the heart builds up and pushes fluid into the lungs’ air sacs, where it doesn’t belong. Breathing problems may happen over time, or they may come all of a sudden.
Get medical help right away if you have trouble breathing that’s worse when you lie down, if you have to gasp for breath, feel like you are drowning, have blue or gray skin color, cough up spit that may have blood in it, or feel your heartbeat is fast or irregular.
Cardiomyopathy is a serious problem with the heart muscle that makes it hard for it to pump and send blood to the body. There are different types of cardiomyopathy and many reasons it happens, such as a heart attack, diabetes, or cancer treatment. Or the reason could be linked to excess weight, too much alcohol, or high blood pressure. In some cases, doctors don’t know why it happens.
You may not notice any symptoms of cardiomyopathy at first. But as it gets worse you may feel breathless when you’re active or even at rest. You may get swollen legs, ankles, and feet. You could feel tired or dizzy, have a cough while lying down, a fast, fluttering heartbeat, or chest pain. If you have trouble breathing, or chest pain that lasts more than a few minutes, get emergency help.
Check With Your Doctor
If you have a breathing problem, you need to see a doctor. They will examine you and may want to check your blood or do other tests to find out what’s going on.
You might want to make notes about how you feel and bring them to your appointment. That way, you won’t forget the important details. You may also want to write down some questions you’d like to ask the doctor. The more your doctor knows, the better.