Here is a description by a nurse how “shortness of breath” is really supposed to feel.

“Shortness of breath” is a common symptom in symptom lists of various medical conditions, particularly those involving the heart and lungs.

Shortness of breath also appears as a symptom for GERD and silent reflux (laryngopharyngeal reflux).

And of course, panic attacks can cause the notorious “shortness of breath.”

But can benign shortness of breath feel different than how shortness of breath caused by a serious medical condition would feel? Not necessarily.

How Does Shortness of Breath from Sickness Feel?

“Normal shortness of breath after heavy exercise just involves rapid deep breathing and resolves within a few minutes after rest,” says Teri Dreher, RN, CCRN, an award-winning RN patient advocate and pioneer in the field of private patient advocate.

Dreher, a critical care nurse for 30+ years, is owner/founder of NShore Patient Advocates in Chicago. She is also a former cardiovascular nurse clinician for Wisconsin Heart and Vascular.

“Abnormal shortness of breath does not resolve with rest and may be pathological…requiring arterial blood gasses to be done to see if carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide level is high.

“Heart and respiratory failure may lead to respiratory arrest if not treated aggressively enough early on.

“If the respiratory rate is over 35 and the patient is frightened, saying, ‘I can’t breathe!’ then call 9-1-1, ask for arterial blood gasses to be done and anticipate aggressive medical intervention.

“Pneumonias may lead to respiratory failure and even death if left untreated.”

If sudden shortness of breath is accompanied by other concerning symptoms such as sweating, nausea, chest pain or jaw or arm pain, this can be a heart attack.

Sudden shortness of breath while in a resting state is very concerning, even if there are no other symptoms. And it just does not feel right. If something doesn’t feel right, get medical help.

Teri Dreher’s 35+ years of experience combines critical care nursing, home based healthcare and cardiovascular clinical nursing.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and personal/cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.