What Causes Shortness Of Breath With Exertion?

Heart failure is a disease that may cause you to feel short of breath.  The most common time when you may feel short of breath due to heart failure is when you exert yourself. So, why does exertion cause heart-related shortness of breath? What can you do? Here’s what to know.

What is exertional shortness of breath?

Exertional dyspnea is defined as shortness of breath with activities. And then you feel better with rest.1

Heart failure means that your heart is not as strong as it used to be. It is still able to pump blood through your body. But it does not do this as effectively as it once did. When your heart is unable to meet the oxygen demands of your body, this can create a feeling that you cannot catch your breath. Another term for this is feeling winded. A medical term is a dyspnea.1,2

Most people with heart failure start by only feeling winded when they exert themselves. Other terms for this are "winded with exertion," or "exertional dyspnea." It's when you feel short of breath when you are with activities.  It may include something as simple as walking or doing your normal day-to-day activities.1

Why does exertion cause shortness of breath?

While exerting yourself, the oxygen demands on your body are increased. And your heart may be unable to keep up with these demands. So this makes your breathing speed up. And this is an effort by your body to inhale more oxygen. It makes your breath feel short. And it makes you feel winded. It makes you feel like you cannot catch your breath.3

Another cause of exertional shortness of breath may be leg fatigue. Second to shortness of breath, leg fatigue is another common reason people with heart failure give for not staying active. They say they simply do not have the strength to do it. So, they simply stop staying active. And this may explain why some people with heart failure resort to spending their days in a recliner.

Why is exertion important?

Yet, at the same time, healthcare professionals like myself teach that it is very important to stay active. Exercise is healthy for your overall well-being. It is also good for keeping your body and your heart strong. And studies show that regular activity and exercise help improve outcomes, reduce hospital stays, and improve the length of life for those living with heart failure.4

This is why it is so important to stay in touch with your doctors. There are certain medicines that doctors can prescribe to increase the strength and contractility of your heart. And this can help you stay active and prevent shortness of breath when you do so.2

What are some tips?

The best treatment for exertional shortness of breath is to stop and rest. This allows your heart time to catch up with the demands of your body. If you have home oxygen, wearing your oxygen can help keep your oxygen levels normal when you are exerting yourself. And this can help prevent you from feeling shortness of breath with exertion.

What about you? Have you experienced shortness of breath with exertion? What do you do when you experience it? Please do let us know in the comments below.

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