Harvard Heart Letter

Unexplained shortness of breath

Advanced testing may be needed to identify the cause.

Shortness of breath (or dyspnea) is a common health problem, and conditions such as heart failure, coronary artery disease (CAD), asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and obesity are often to blame. Most physicians will assess for these problems and refer the individual to a specialist once a likely culprit has been identified.

But finding the underlying cause of breathlessness is not always easy. In cases when the cardiologist rules out a heart condition, and the pulmonologist says lung disease is not responsible, a primary care physician may not know where to turn for help. As a result, the individual may go undiagnosed and untreated.

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