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Shortness of Breath

Treatment for Shortness of Breath (Dyspnea)

For patients experiencing unexplained shortness of breath, also called dyspnea, University Hospitals Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute provides expert, collaborative care with advanced diagnostic testing to help determine the underlying causes of shortness of breath. We are considered a national leader in shortness of breath treatment because we are one of only a few major academic medical centers in the nation offering this specialized care for dyspnea.

We offer expanded testing services for patients who experience any of the following:

  • Unexplained shortness of breath
  • Diastolic dysfunction or diastolic heart failure
  • Exercise-induced high blood pressure in the lungs (pulmonary hypertension)
  • Exercise intolerance

In most cases, shortness of breath occurs with physical exertion. However, when it is chronic and not a direct result of physical exertion, it may be a symptom of a more serious underlying cause. Lung and heart conditions including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, pulmonary hypertension, heart disease and congestive heart failure may all lead to shortness of breath. At University Hospitals, our multi-disciplinary team of heart, lung, sleep and nervous system specialists will work together to pinpoint the cause of your dyspnea and design an individualized treatment plan for you.

Advanced Diagnostic Testing for Patients with Unexplained Shortness of Breath

There are a number of conventional diagnostic tests we may conduct to determine the cause of your shortness of breath. These tests can include:

  • Blood tests: Blood tests will measure your blood oxygen saturation and blood gases.
  • Chest X-rays: A chest X-ray will evaluate your lung condition.
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG): In an ECG, the electrical activity of your heart will be recorded to pinpoint abnormal rhythms or arrhythmias.
  • Physical exam: In a physical exam, your medical history and symptoms will be reviewed.

We are among a select few healthcare systems in the nation who offer more extensive exercise stress testing as a cornerstone of our dyspnea program. Exercise stress tests with imaging capabilities can identify stiffness in the heart or issues with lung circulation, including:

  • Exercise echocardiogram (Stress Echocardiogram): An echo stress test will use ultrasound waves to create a moving picture of your heart and heart valves during exercise.
  • Cardiopulmonary exercise testing (CPET): The test uses a breathing mask to measures oxygen and carbon dioxide gas exchange and more accurately determines a person’s exercise capacity.
  • Invasive CPET (iCPET): A cutting-edge approach that uses an arterial catheter to monitor blood pressure and gas exchange to measure heart and lung function during exercise.

Treatments to Help Manage Shortness of Breath

Once the underlying disease or condition that is causing your shortness of breath is determined, our team of specialists will provide an individualized plan that is right for your specific needs. Pain medications to reduce pain, bronchodilators to open airways or steroids to reduce swelling may be prescribed.

Medications are often paired with relaxation and breathing exercises that can help manage your emotions, reduce the severity of your shortness of breath and assist you in becoming more aware of your lung function.

We also offer oxygen therapy as a viable treatment option. It delivers an extra supply of oxygen into your body and can help improve your shortness of breath. In the most serious cases, a mechanical ventilator may be used to regulate the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the lungs. Highly specialized surgical intervention may also be an option if other treatments are ineffective and it is necessary for long-term survival.

Renowned Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program

Many UH patients with breathing and lung disorders benefit from comprehensive care offered through our Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program.

Our rehabilitation team uses a combined approach of exercise, education and counseling and works with cardiologists, nurses, exercise physiologists, dietitians and other specialists to create personalized rehabilitation plans. Through our rehabilitation center services, patients can expect to gain strength, reduce the risk of future cardiovascular and pulmonary illness and improve their overall quality of life.

Learn More about UH Services for Dyspnea

If you or someone you love is experiencing shortness of breath, contact one of our dyspnea specialists at any of our convenient UH locations.