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Feeling short of breath is one of the most common symptoms of heart failure. In the early stages of the condition many people feel breathless after exercising or when performing more strenuous activities such as mowing the lawn.
But if the condition advances, feeling breathless can become more common during everyday activities like climbing the stairs or taking a shower, and even resting. Lying flat can also suddenly bring on shortness of breath for many people, interrupting their sleep and sometimes leaving them feeling anxious and tired.
This can cause blood to "back up" or accumulate in the tubes traveling from the lungs to the heart. If this happens fluid can leak into and accumulate in the lungs.
Our lungs are complex organs that remove carbon dioxide and exchange it for oxygen, but they can’t do this easily when fluid builds up inside them. It is this that can leave people with heart failure feeling short of breath.
It is also why people with this heart problem may feel more breathless lying down, because as they do, the fluid spreads across the surface of the lungs (imagine liquid in a bottle when it is upright and how it spreads out when you lie it on its side).
So what can be done to manage breathlessness?
Learn more about managing life with heart failure >
There are many ways you can manage your condition.
A consultant cardiologist and patient educator offer their expert opinions and first-hand experience of heart failure, answering your questions.
Use our symptom checker tool to help you to evaluate and discuss your heart failure symptoms with your doctor.
1) Bozkurt, B. and Mann, D.L. (2003) ‘Shortness of breath’, Cardiology Patient Page, 108(2), pp. 11–13. doi: 10.1161/01.CIR.0000075956.36340.78.
3) Royal Berkshire Department of Cardiology. Heart Failure: Information for patients. Available here: http://www.royalberkshire.nhs.uk/Downloads/GPs/GP%20protocols%20and%20guidelines/Cardiology/Heart_Failure.pdf. Last accessed January 2020.
4) Medline Plus. Pulmonary edema. Available here: https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000140.htm. Last accessed January 2020..
5) Heart Failure Matters. Warning Signs. Awakening short of breath/ needing more pillows. Available at: http://www.heartfailurematters.org/en_GB/Warning-signs/Awakening-short-of-breath-needing-more-pillows. Last accessed January 2020.