Reviewed by Andrew M. Freeman,

You should consider calling your doctor any time you are concerned about your health. Call your doctor if you are experiencing persistent shortness of breath:

  • From slight exertion or when you're resting
  • If you have new swelling in your feet or ankles
  • That gets worse when you exercise
  • That includes chest pain and a dry cough
  • When you are sleeping
  • Accompanied by wheezing
  • With a high fever, chills and cough
  • Along with chest pain



Your doctor will use the tools necessary to diagnose your specific condition. Examples include:

  • Physical exam and health history
  • Blood tests
  • Chest x-rays and CT scans
  • Lung function test
  • Electrocardiogram
  • Echocardiograms (heart sonograms)
  • Stress (exercise) testing

Your doctor may ask you to rate your breathlessness on a scale similar to the one below.

Level Degree of Dyspnea

  1. No dyspnea except with strenuous exercise
  2. Dyspnea when walking up an incline or hurrying on a flat surface
  3. Walks slower than most on a level surface, or stops after 15 minutes of walking
  4. Stops after a few minutes of walking on the level
  5. Dyspnea with minimal activity such as getting dressed, cant' leave the house

Sometimes dyspnea is difficult to diagnose. If your condition is complicated, you may need to see specialists who focus on the heart and lungs. Your doctor should design a treatment plan for your specific needs.

Clinical Trials

For more than 100 years, National Jewish Health has been committed to finding new treatments and cures for diseases. Search our clinical trials.