I am often breathless

I am often breathless walking up the escalator on the tube or when walking fast. I have had very bad sleeping habits and feel I am getting more and more forgetful.

1 September 2016

Myra, thank you for contacting Ask the Expert regarding your health concerns.

You do not give us many details regarding your age and general health prior to this occasion so my answer is going to be tackled from a general perspective giving information about various potential causes for your symptoms.

Shortness of breath can be occurring for a number of reasons including:

Anaemia- this is where your iron levels are low so the uptake of oxygen in the blood can be lowered causing tiredness and breathlessness.

Infection- chest infections and pneumonia can often cause breathlessness but may also be accompanied by coughs, wheezing, pain and temperatures. It can take upto 4 weeks  or more to recover from infections such as pneumonia.

General Stability- if you are overweight or, have not been physically active for sometime, then it is possible to be breathless when exerting yourself. Building up your mobility through exercise can help you to lose weight and build up your general stamina so that over a period of time walking fast and climbing will not cause this discomfort.

Diminished Respiratory Function- conditions such as Asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and Pulmonary Embolisms can cause breathlessness. It is important that if you have these conditions that they are monitored and medications taken as prescribed and reviewed regularly.

Altered Cardiac Function- conditions such as heart failure and heart attacks can mean that the heart is unable to function effectively and this will affect the amount of oxygen in your body and therefore contribute to feeling breathless.

Other Medical conditions- where the body is not able to function to its full potential and treatments may hinder the working capacity of the lungs.

We would suggest that you see your GP to discuss the breathlessness as they will be able to do some initial screening as to the potential causes for your breathlessness.

Tests that can be done to try to ascertain why you are breathless can include chest x-rays, lung function tests, ECGs and blood tests to exclude infections, heart disease, anaemia and other illnesses.

You also mention that you have trouble sleeping and are becoming more forgetful recently this could also do with some investigation too.

Sleep patterns do alter with age but can be affected by our emotional well being too. If you are low in mood or suffering from depression or anxieties this can very much impact on our sleep amount and quality.

If you are sleep deprived this can also impact on your mental agility.

Below are tips that may improve your sleep pattern and quality:

1. Try to stick to a good/ strict  bedtime routine
2. Try to avoid drinking to much caffeine / alcohol in the evening
3. Try to wind down before going to bed- bath, cocoa, relaxing music and avoiding excessive stimulation.
4. Try to organise your thoughts and consider practising some yoga
5. Make sure your room has air circulating and not too hot or with excessive light sources..
6. Consider using aromatherapy with oils such as lavender to help soothe you .
7. consider a sleep diary which you can then discuss with your GP.

In relation to your forgetfulness , this may be  due to lack of sleep or depression but can also be linked to other conditions linked with ageing or ill health such as underactive thyroid or Vitamin B deficiency or onset of dementia.

We would suggest that you seek an appointment with your GP as perhaps some investigations may be required.

Some tips that may help you with your memory which you could consider are:

  1. Keeping a diary/ information book.
  2. Keep everyday important items in the same place
  3. Write memo notes/ set alarms
  4. Exercise
  5. Try activities that stimulate the mind
  6. Talk to your partner or family member about important things so they can remind you.

We hope the above information has been helpful, however we would very much urge you to arrange an appointment with your GP regarding all these issues so that investigations and possible treatments can be commenced for you. 


Answered by the Health at Hand nurses  

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