There’s many ways to describe “shortness of breath,” a common complaint among those fearing heart problems or GERD.

Shortness of breath can feel as follows:

• The way you’d have to inhale after running across a parking lot after your dog—even though you’re at rest or doing minimal activity.

• The way you feel after running up several flights of stairs or doing some kind of activity that your body is not trained well at, such as pumping a bicycle up a hill—again, even though your physical activity at the time doesn’t justify this.

• A sudden feeling that you must increase your rate of breathing (even though you’re at rest).

Shortness of breath is a symptom, and it means different things to people,” says Susan L. Besser, MD, with Mercy Medical Center, Baltimore; Diplomate, American Board of Obesity Medicine and board certified by the American Board of Family Medicine.

“For some it means difficulty inhaling; for others a feeling of incomplete breaths, or it could be a sensation of a weight on the chest, or congestion in the lungs or trouble exhaling,” continues Dr. Besser.

“Shortness of breath can be due to lots of things: anxiety attack, hyperventilation, asthma, emphysema, heart disease, an upper respiratory infection or chronic tobacco use, just to name a few.

“Your doctor will ask questions to decide exactly what YOU mean by ‘shortness of breath’ and will test and diagnose according to your symptoms and what he/she sees on the evaluation.”

“Shortness of Breath” Is a Symptom, not a Diagnosis


When you tell your doctor, “I have shortness of breath,” you absolutely must be specific. This is a vague, ambiguous reference to a common symptom.

If your doctor isn’t taking you seriously because of your relatively young age, find another doctor fast.

Do not confuse “shortness of breath” with “difficulty breathing.”

Trouble with breathing can be described as follows:

• Being unable to take a deep breath.

• Being unable to fully exhale.

• Feeling like there is a girdle around your throat and chest.

• Feeling as though your airway is tightening or has become narrowed.

• Feeling as though your airway has been reduced to the diameter of a straw as you struggle to take in breaths.

• You are not “out of breath,” but rather, you sense some kind of mechanical issue with your ability to inhale.

With the so-called shortness of breath, you do not feel any kind of mechanical issue with the act of respiration, but instead, you feel as though your body is not getting enough oxygen.

A person may be heavily panting after racing up several flights of stairs — yet has no problem whatsoever gulping in huge rapid breaths.

Dr. Besser provides comprehensive family care, treating common and acute primary conditions like diabetes and hypertension. Her ongoing approach allows her the opportunity to provide accurate and critical diagnoses of more complex conditions and disorders.
Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified by the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained clients of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health. 
Top image: Shutterstock/Aaron Amat