Shortness of breath

Breathlessness is a symptom that can develop suddenly or gradually and is often present only on exercise. The presence of breathlessness when walking uphill or climbing a set of stairs can be an early sign of a cardiac problem. This problem may be related to the pumping function of the heart or the function of the cardiac valves and is usually called “heart failure”. At later stages of heart failure people may experience breathlessness when lying flat on a bed and therefore use more than one pillow to sleep at night. Others may wake up suddenly in the middle of the night feeling that they cannot breathe and run to the window to get some air. Heart failure may sometimes be related to a “weak” heart and can manifest as profound tiredness.

Examples of symptoms that should alert you for a possible cardiac problem:

  • Breathlessness when climbing a set of stairs
  • Breathlessness when walking uphill
  • Requiring more than one pillows to sleep at night
  • Breathlessness when tying the shoelaces
  • Breathlessness when talking
  • Unexplained tiredness and persistent daytime fatigue
  • Waking up in the middle of the night gasping for air

It is important to have your heart checked by an expert as soon as these symptoms develop, because early initiation of treatment is more effective. The initial assessment should include an ECG and a scan of the heart (echocardiogram). You can arrange both tests at the same day of your initial consultation here.