Breathing heavily? Shortness of breath can be a major sign of heart attack!

Shortness of breath may be something you shouldn’t neglect. Here’s how it poses a threat to your heart health.

causes of breathlessness
Here’s why youngsters are more at risk of heart attacks recently. Image Courtesy: Shutterstock
Shifa Khan Published on: 21 March 2022, 22:35 pm IST
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Heart problems are on a rise globally, and researchers the world over are trying to study the condition more closely. According to a recent research, 76 percent of heart attack patients who experience shortness of breath, dyspnoea or fatigue as their main symptom of illness, have a greater chance of survival than those with chest pain as the predominant feature.

The research findings were presented at ESC Acute Cardiovascular Care 2022, which is a scientific congress of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC). The participants of the study were aged 18 years and older. It included 4,726 admitted with NSTEMI between October 2010 and September 2019.

Common heart attack symptoms in women, older people, and patients with other conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease, and lung disease were shortness of breath and extreme tiredness,” said study author Dr Paulo Medeiros of Braga Hospital, Portugal.

Dr Maulik Parekh, Head – Structural Heart Programme, Interventional Cardiologist, Sir H N Reliance Foundation Hospital, Mumbai, gave HealthShots an insight into shortness of breatH.

“Shortness of breath, or breathlessness is a frequent symptom of many heart and lung related diseases. Dyspnoea, as it is known in medical terminology, is a very unpleasant sensation when breathing becomes a conscious effort such that you’re short of breath. In this case, you have to remind yourself to take deep breaths. It can be frightening, especially if you’ve never experienced it before. Sudden severe breathlessness is one of the most common reasons that people call an ambulance or visit emergency departments,” says Dr Parekh.

risks of obesity
Obesity is also linked with several cardiovascular diseases including high blood pressure and stroke. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Should one be concerned about shortness of breath?

Shortness of breath is a symptom that can be associated with many conditions, primarily of the heart and lungs. Both of these are incredibly important organs, so it’s never a good idea to ignore shortness of breath or treat it lightly. “The reason for breathlessness is that the body needs more oxygen than it is getting. So, you breathe faster to try to increase the flow of oxygen-rich air into the lungs. From the lungs, oxygen gets into the bloodstream and is pumped around the body by the heart,” adds Dr Parekh.

Breathlessness is usually a gradually progressive symptom. It’s often first noticed during physical activity. For instance, you are no longer able to keep pace with someone while walking or you can’t climb a flight of stairs. Causes of gradually progressive breathlessness include obesity or lack of fitness, obstructive airway diseases like chronic bronchitis, Asthma and even anaemia.

When should one not neglect shortness of breath?

Not all breathlessness develops slowly over time. Sometimes, this difficulty in breathing can be sudden or acute onset and even be severe in nature. Rapidly developing shortness of breath is usually accompanied by other symptoms such as fever and cough (Pneumonia), itching and rash (allergic reaction), wheezing (asthma), chest pain and light-headedness, leg swelling or long travel history (pulmonary embolism).

custard apple
Shortness of breath also impacts your heart health. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Shortness of breath should never be taken lightly. Especially if it is moderate to severe and is accompanied by chest pain, light-headedness, leg swelling or changes to colour of your skin – it becomes a medical emergency. It can be a sign of a heart attack or a pulmonary embolism, both of which are life-threatening situations. Pulmonary embolism is a clot in the lung, usually secondary to a blood clot in the leg, which causes a painful, swollen calf. It develops after a period of immobility (for example, a long haul flight) or also in some cancers and blood disorders.

Heart diseases – for example, heart failure where the heart doesn’t pump blood properly, is a major cause of progressive breathlessness as suggested in the findings of the study above. Common causes of heart failure include sudden or long standing coronary blockages, narrowing or leakage of one or more heart valves or heart muscle weakness. Aortic valve stenosis and mitral valve regurgitation are very common causes of shortness of breath in elderly population.

Is shortness of breath always life threatening?

Not all shortness of breath is serious and life-threatening. You are likely to feel huffy, puffy or short of breath if you try to do unaccustomed work. This is called ‘deconditioning’, which means trying to do a job you are not used to doing. It can be overcome by regular and gradual training and exercise. Panic attack or anxiety can also give a subjective feeling of shortness of breath and the person typically hyperventilates due to some panic trigger.

If you experience anything like that, you should see a heart specialist (a cardiologist) or a lung specialist (pulmonologist), for further tests. Treatment will depend on the likely cause of your breathlessness. One should conduct annual health check-ups to diagnose and treat any underlying silent heart or lung issues early and prevent further progression. You should stop smoking if you are a smoker. Regular exercise and achieving an ideal body weight is also of great value.

(With inputs from ANI)

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About the Author
Shifa Khan Shifa Khan

An aesthete and a skincare junkie, Shifa spends most of her time cooking delish food while wearing a sheet mask. At HealthShots, she creates high-octane content that can leave you all a little intrigued!

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