HomeHealth TopicRespiratory

Always Short of Breath? Here Are Possible Reasons Why

In this video, learn possible respiratory problems that can cause a chronic shortness of breath.

Lauren Smith
Written by Lauren Smith | Reviewed by Alexandra Schwarz
Updated on January 22, 2022

If you feel like you’re gasping for air—and not just while you’re on the treadmill—that’s definitely a reason for concern. This is a serious respiratory symptom that deserves investigation.

Most often, shortness of breath is linked to the lungs or the heart. (One exception would be panic attacks, which are a mental health problem that occur in acute attacks, as opposed to being a chronic symptom.)

It might seem like your breathing is just a lung thing, but your brain is actually responsible for regulating breathing, according to the American Lung Association. When the brain senses certain changes (such as changes to  oxygen or carbon dioxide levels), your brain instructs your body to breathe faster or slower. If your brain wants you to increase your breathing, your lungs will take quicker and deeper breaths, which will feel like you’re gasping for breath.

It's normal to be short of breath while you're exercising or in higher altitudes, but if you feel breathless while just walking from your bed to the bathroom, that's cause for concern. Common causes of chronic shortness of breath include the following:

  • Asthma

  • Obesity

  • COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

  • Heart failure

  • Emphysema

  • Abnormal heart function

  • Lung cancer

  • Or other less common lung diseases, such as pulmonary fibrosis, pulmonary edema, tuberculosis, or pleurisy.

As you can see, many of these are more serious and require medical treatment and lifestyle changes. It’s best to see your doctor sooner rather than later.

However, shortness of breath can also be an emergency situation. See a doctor ASAP if you have trouble breathing while resting or lying down, or if any of the following symptoms accompany your shortness of breath:

  • Swelling of the feet

  • High fever

  • Cough

  • Blue fingertips or lips

  • Chest pain

  • Or wheezing.

Either way, seek treatment so you can breathe easy—literally.


Shortness of breath. Leawood, KS: American Academy of Family Physicians. (Accessed on January 22, 2022 at https://familydoctor.org/condition/shortness-of-breath/.)

Shortness of breath symptoms, causes and risk factors. Chicago, IL: American Lung Association, 2018. (Accessed on January 22, 2022 at https://www.lung.org/lung-health-and-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/shortness-of-breath/shortness-breath-symptoms-risks.html.)

GoodRx Health has strict sourcing policies and relies on primary sources such as medical organizations, governmental agencies, academic institutions, and peer-reviewed scientific journals. Learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate, thorough, and unbiased by reading our editorial guidelines.

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