heron Help when you need it most - Physical symptoms - Shortness of breath - April 2007
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Shortness of breath

Being short of breath is not in itself harmful, but it can be a very unpleasant experience. It is important that you are as active as your body will allow and for as long as possible. You may have to change the ways you do some things by thinking first and perhaps moving more slowly. You may find that some days are harder to cope with than others.

There are many different reasons for being short of breath including anxiety, disease, infection and anaemia. If you are not sure what is causing your breathlessness, it is important to ask for advice from the health care team. If you suddenly become very breathless, you must contact your doctor immediately.

What can you do to help?

  • fresh air or air from a fan on your face can help reduce the feeling of being short of breath
  • stay as active as you can, exercise will help
  • try to stay relaxed and calm if you become breathless, feeling frightened or anxious can make the breathlessness worse
  • try sitting upright.

The use of relaxation techniques to reduce the feelings of anxiety will help you to manage the breathlessness. Try the following steps:

  • make sure that you are sitting or lying comfortably
  • close your eyes, or focus on a pleasant image such as a photograph or a vase of flowers
  • concentrate on your breathing and try to keep a steady breathing rate
  • try to relax your shoulders.

If your shortness of breath is caused by lung cancer, secondary lung cancer or mesothelioma, there is a service available which may be able to help you with your breathing difficulties. Your GP or nurse will be able to refer you to the breathlessness clinic that runs at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

Other information in the Physical symptoms section
Fatigue and tiredness Constipation
Pain and discomfort Depression and anxiety
Sickness (nausea and vomiting) Complementary therapy


April 2007 - links updated Dec2010