Shortness of breath: What are the tests used for diagnosis?

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Shortness of breath is one of the reasons why some individuals consult their doctor. It is a feeling of not getting enough air. It is a common symptom and usually harmless especially after a strenuous workout or a stressful day. On the other hand, it can also be an indication of a health condition such as lung conditions, heart disease or anxiety.

When to consult a doctor

In case shortness of breath disrupts with daily activities, it is best to consult a doctor. If it occurs along with the following symptoms, a doctor should be seen as well.

  • Shortness of breath while resting or lying down
  • Fever, chills and night sweats
  • Wheezing
  • Rapid, fluttering heart beats

Diagnostic tests for shortness of breath

Shortness of breath
Shortness of breath while resting or lying down

The doctor will ask about the medical history and perform a physical exam. This can include listening to the heart and lungs for indications of murmur, congestion or anything unusual.

Depending on the results of the assessment, the doctor might order a few tests to determine what else might be causing the breathing issues.

  • Chest X-ray – this test shows indications of conditions such as pneumonia or other lung and heart issues.
  • Electrocardiography (EKG) – small electrodes are placed on the chest using tape or gel and a machine measures the electrical impulses of the heart. This shows how good blood is flowing to the heart.
  • Oxygen test (pulse oximetry) – measures the amount of oxygen in the blood
  • Lung function test – this measures how well the lungs function and used to determine if there is something that blocks them from using air. It also reveals how the lungs transport and utilize oxygen.
  • Blood test – a sample of blood is taken from a vein in the arm and analyzed in the laboratory. The results show if certain conditions such as anemia or heart failure are responsible for causing shortness of breath.

In case the shortness of breath is severe or accompanied by other symptoms such as chest pain, confusion, jaw pain or pain radiating down the arm, call for emergency assistance right away.


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