Learn more about breathing problems: shortness of breath

Shortness of breath might not be anything to worry about, but sometimes it can be serious and you'll need to get medical help.

Call 999 if:

You're struggling to breathe or you have sudden shortness of breath and:

  • your chest feels tight or heavy
  • you have pain that spreads to your arms, back, neck and jaw
  • you feel sick or are being sick

You could be having a heart attack or a problem with your lungs or airway.

Call 999 immediately as you need treatment in hospital.

See a GP if:

You have shortness of breath and:

  • it's lasted longer than a month
  • it gets worse when you've been active
  • it gets worse when you lie down
  • you've been coughing for 3 weeks or more
  • you have swollen ankles

It's important to get medical advice to make sure it's nothing serious. You're not wasting anyone's time by getting it checked out.

Shortness of breath has lots of different causes.

Common causes include asthma, a chest infection, being overweight, and smoking. It can also be a sign of a panic attack.

But sometimes it could be a sign of something more serious, such as a lung condition called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or lung cancer.

Any treatment you may need depends on what's causing your symptoms.

Do not try to self-diagnose the cause of your shortness of breath – always see a GP.