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Lately I’ve been getting short of breath when climbing stairs and walking fast. I’ve heard that this could be a sign of heart disease.

We now find that more patients with coronary artery disease and other heart illnesses present with shortness of breath than chest pain. We used to feel that the absence of chest pain was important and implied that there were no blocked arteries in the heart. We now know however, that the symptom of shortness of breath is of great concern and should be evaluated in all patients. Many people feel that they’re ‘getting old’ and “out of shape’. Making this assumption without a good evaluation is unwise and in my opinion often leads to a missed diagnosis of problems which could lead to a heart attack.

Certainly the list of things that causes shortness of breath is extremely long and does include deconditioning, overweight and loss of vigor due to aging. Also, primary lung disease such as emphysema, bronchitis, asthma, and lung tumors can cause one to be short of breath. Furthermore, anemia and other blood disorders and malignancies virtually anywhere in the body can cause a feeling of shortness of breath and easy fatigability.

In our effort to understand why people are short of breath, we find that in patients with coronary artery blockages, the heart simply cannot get enough blood during exercise causing the pumping chamber to work inefficiently. This results in the feeling of breathlessness. Other symptoms associated with coronary artery blockages are a feeling of fatigue, unusual sweating, inability to sleep, chest pain and sometimes nausea. These symptoms may be brought on by exertion but can occur at rest. Pain radiating to the arm, chest, upper chest, shoulders and neck area may also be associated with coronary artery blockages.

My advice to people who feel they have breathlessness or shortness of breath on exertion, is that this problem should be evaluated immediately. There usually is some cause for the shortness of breath, but in the absence of any heart, lung or other abnormalities, embarking on an exercise program, changing one’s diet and losing weight will almost always improve exercise tolerance and result in a feeling of improved fitness and quality of life.


Galichia Medical Group, P.A.
2600 N Woodlawn
· Wichita, KS 67220

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