FREE subscriptions for doctors and students... click here
You have 3 more open access pages.

Causes of breathlessness include:

Physiological dyspnoea: the normal breathlessness that accompanies exercise, the onset of which is dependent on the individual's fitness.

Cardiac disease:

  • pulmonary venous congestion due to left heart failure of any cause

Lung disease:

  • obstructive airways disease, e.g. acute asthma
  • chronic airflow limitation, e.g. chronic bronchitis and/or emphysema
  • parenchymal lung disease, e.g. fibrosing alveolitis, sarcoidosis, pneumoconiosis: initially produce dyspnoea on exertion. Crackles are usually present on auscultation.
  • pulmonary vascular disease, e.g. pulmonary emboli, pulmonary hypertension
  • chest wall abnormality, e.g. obesity, kyphoscoliosis
  • respiratory muscle weakness, e.g. Guillain-Barre, syndrome, polio, myasthenia gravis
  • pneumothorax
  • pulmonary collapse

Other causes, e.g. psychogenic hyperventilation, altitude sickness, anaemia.

Breathlessness may also be considered in terms of acute causes and chronic causes - see linked items below.

Last reviewed 01/2018