Shortness Of Breath At Night: Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment & More

Are You Having Shortness Of Breath At Night?

A regular breathing cycle keeps the functioning of the rest of your body and organs intact. But, when you find yourself gasping for breath a lot more frequently, it can deviate towards breathing issues that need an immediate address.

It can get terrifying if you experience multiple episodes of shortness of breath, especially at night. Medically known as dyspnea, shortness of breath can cause an intense tightening in the chest, breathing difficulty, breathlessness, or suffocation. When it comes to breathing problems at night, most of them attribute to heart-related conditions like congestive heart failure or lung-related problems like bronchitis. Sometimes, even stress can induce hyperventilation, thus causing shortness of breath.

So, if you find yourself waking up at night, short of breath, you need to consult a doctor and seek proper diagnosis and treatment for your problem. When lying down, if you experience breathlessness, it is known as orthopnea. Those with heart, lung, or stress-related conditions usually suffer from this problem. Either way, if you find yourself short of breath suddenly and gets severe, call for medical help immediately.

Today, you will learn more about the causes, symptoms, and treatment for shortness of breath at night so you can get the necessary help if and when needed.

Shortness Of Breath: Symptoms

The symptoms of shortness of breath at night are self-explanatory. However, if it gets severe, you might find yourself,

  • Not able to catch your breath while lying down
  • Getting multiple episodes of breathlessness that either prolong or worsen

Moreover, if your shortness of breath comes with the following symptoms, you should seek medical help at the earliest.

  • Swelling of feet
  • Blue lips or fingers
  • Flu or wheezing
  • High-pitched sound when breathing

You cannot dismiss something as serious as breathlessness as the causes might indicate towards a more serious underlying health condition. Therefore, consulting a qualified doctor, understanding the root of the problem, and seeking adequate treatment are the first few steps you can take towards addressing the larger issue at hand.

Shortness Of Breath: Causes

Plenty of conditions or underlying health problems can lead to shortness of breath. If you experience the issue of breathlessness and other similar symptoms for over a month, it must be chronic. The primary reason behind shortness of breath is that your body isn’t able to pump oxygen into your blood. The crux of the problem could be your lungs or your heart. Since multiple causes can lead to shortness of breath, let’s take a look at the most challenging ones and how their immediate diagnosis and treatment can help solve the issue.

  • Anaphylaxis – It is an allergic reaction that causes your immune system to weaken and release chemicals that cause your body to go into shock. Once the chemicals get released, it causes your blood pressure to drop and your airways to narrow, thus causing breathing difficulty.
  • Anxiety Disorders – Feelings of intense anxiety, persistent worry, and fear, or panic attacks can get clubbed under anxiety disorders. Sometimes, these symptoms can induce hyperventilation, thus leading to rapid breathing or breathlessness.
  • Asthma – In this condition, your airways narrow and swell up, producing extra mucus. It can cause breathing issues and wheezing when exhaling, leading to shortness of breath or tightness in the chest.
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) – This chronic inflammatory lung disease obstructs airflow from the lungs. The symptoms include shortness of breath, cough, and wheezing when exhaling. Its primary cause comprises long-term exposure to acrid gases or particulate matter.
  • Heart Attack – When the flow of blood to your heart gets blocked, it could cause a heart attack. Shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, fatigue, sudden dizziness, and pressure on your chest or arms are some of the symptoms of a heart attack.
  • Heart Arrythmia – When the electrical impulses that control your heartbeat become irregular, it can lead to heart arrhythmia. This irregularity in your heartbeat results in either your heart beating too fast or too slow. It also happens to weaken or damage the organ in the process. This irregular heartbeat can cause shortness of breath and chest pain.
  • Heart Failure – When the muscles of your heart fail to pump blood as well as they should, it could result in heart failure. It causes narrowing of the arteries, causing pressure on the chest, thus leading to shortness of breath or breathlessness when you lie down or exert yourself up.
  • Pneumonia – Inflammation of the air sacs in one or both of your lungs leads to pneumonia. The air sacs get filled with fluid or pus, causing difficulty in breathing and fever.
  • Pulmonary Embolism – If there’s a blockage in one of the arteries in your lungs, it could lead to pulmonary embolism. These blood clots block the flow of blood to the lungs and cause shortness of breath, chest pain, and cough.
  • Pulmonary Hypertension – It is a kind of blood pressure that affects the arteries in the lungs and the right side of the heart. Here, the blood vessels are blocked, narrowed, or destroyed. You might experience shortness of breath during exercise, chest pressure, and fatigue.

Other causes of shortness of breath include sleep apnea, pulmonary fibrosis, heart dysfunction, and many others. Once you are aware of the reasons behind the problem, you can seek the right treatment for your breathlessness issue.

Shortness Of Breath: Diagnosis

A proper diagnosis leads to correct treatment. Therefore, in the case of shortness of breath, the doctor will prescribe a few tests and exams that will determine the exact cause of the problem, thus enabling its treatment. The tests include:

  • A physical exam that helps review your medical history and symptoms.
  • Blood tests where your arterial blood gases and blood oxygen saturation get measured.
  • Exercise tests that determine your blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing rate during exercise and at rest.
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG) to record the electrical activity of your heart.
  • A chest X-ray to help assess your lung condition.
  • A CT scan of your chest.

These diagnostic tests will help determine the treatment for your shortness of breath problem.

Shortness Of Breath: Treatments

As you already know, the treatment for shortness of breath depends on the causes. Therefore, once that gets identified, the treatment process can begin for the same. After considering the numerous reasons, find the treatment options for some of them below.

  • Anxiety and panic attacks – You can avoid the triggers by adding some breathing exercises to your daily routine. You can even talk to a mental health professional, which may help you relieve feelings of anxiety and avoid panic attacks.
  • Asthma – Follow the treatment plan prescribed by your doctor to avoid triggers. You can even prop up your pillows and sleep in that position to keep the airways open.
  • COPD – Adhere to the prescribed treatment plan, which may include an inhaler and other medications. If you smoke, you need to quit smoking immediately and avoid exposure to other harmful chemicals.
  • Heart failure – Depending on your condition, the treatment plan for heart failure may vary. So, follow the instructions carefully and regularly. The doctor often prescribes medications, lifestyle modifications, and other treatment options to make sure your heart works properly.
  • Pneumonia – In this case, the doctor prescribes antibiotics, cough medicines, pain relievers, fever medications, and rest.
  • Sleep apnea – Losing weight and quitting smoking may help with your sleep apnea problem. The doctor may also prescribe an assistive device to help you sleep better by ensuring your airways stay open.

Since multiple problems can cause shortness of breath, you need to consult your doctor to understand the reason behind your breathlessness issue.

Shortness Of Breath: Prevention

To avoid triggers that cause shortness of breath, you need to take a few self-care measures. They help from making the condition worse and also help the current treatment work. A healthy diet and other lifestyle changes may help control the occurrence of breathlessness and prevent other significant problems as well.

  • Quit smoking altogether if you wish to prevent COPD and its implications.
  • Avoid exposure to pollutants as much as possible.
  • Avoid extreme temperatures that may magnify dyspnea caused by chronic lung diseases.
  • If you have an underlying medical condition that causes shortness of breath, consult your doctor on the next steps if your symptoms become worse.
  • Exercise regularly and improve physical fitness. However, speak with your doctor before starting an exercise program.
  • Take your medications on time and regularly to control dyspnea.

Shortness Of Breath: FAQs

Due to the uncertainty of the causes behind shortness of breath, there are plenty of questions that might crop up. So, concerning this condition, they may range from why it happens to how to control it. Therefore, the following frequently asked questions might answer some of your doubts and help you take the next steps.

1. When Should I Be Concerned About Shortness Of Breath?
If you find the problem persisting for over a month, accompanied by high fever, chills, swelling of feet, wheezing, and breathlessness, you should seek medical help immediately. If the problem is chronic, the chances of you having underlying health problems increase, thus early detection and treatment are essential.

2. How Can I Check My Breathing At Home?
Take a short breath in and a small breath out. Now, you need to close your nose to prevent air from entering your lungs. Count the number of seconds until you feel the first signs of breathlessness. Speak with your doctor soon after to make sure your breathing cycle is regular. There might be devices that help you check your breathing at home too.

3. Why Do I Have Trouble Breathing When I Lay Down?
Several factors may affect your breathing cycle while you lie down. Lung and heart problems may be the underlying cause of breathlessness, and shortness of breath, which is why consulting a qualified doctor is paramount. Other factors include sleep apnea and mental health problems as well.

4. What To Do If I Feel Like I Can’t Breathe?
Seek emergency medical care and call your local emergency number if you experience severe shortness of breath suddenly, and it affects your ability to function. If accompanied by chest pain, fainting, nausea, or dizziness, medical attention is needed as it could be signs of a heart attack or pulmonary embolism.

5. What Causes Shortness Of Breath When Lying Down?
Anxiety disorders, asthma, heart conditions, lung diseases, and many other factors cause shortness of breath when lying down. Since the causes are plenty, a proper diagnosis and treatment are necessary to make sure it doesn’t recur or lead to something more aggravating.

When To Call Your Doctor?

If you notice any additional symptoms concerning shortness of breath or find it hard to breathe all of a sudden, you need to seek medical attention. Addressing different health conditions requires expertise, and only a qualified doctor can assess, diagnose, and treat the problem.

Remember, do not self-diagnose, and any symptoms, however small they seem, should be conveyed to the doctor to get the correct treatment.


Shortness of breath at night can be fearful and occurs due to a variety of reasons. Therefore, understanding the symptoms and the causes can help your doctor with its treatment. On the other hand, if you notice sudden breathlessness, you should seek medical attention immediately as it can be a sign of a life-threatening condition. Never delay, or you might find yourself in a critical position health-wise. You should receive the right treatment at the right time and by a qualified doctor.

Aims Healthcare’s Doctor-on-Call service in Dubai makes sure you are in safe hands and get the best possible treatment for your problem in the comfort of your home or office. If you wish to opt for personalized medical care, comprehensive diagnosis, treatment, and after-care therapy exclusively at your doorstep contact us at +971 505 136 505 or fill this enquiry form and one of our dedicated team members will contact you at the earliest..

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