Shortness of breath can have many different causes. Generally described as the feeling of being unable to get enough air in your lungs, it can come on suddenly or gradually and be severe or mild. Sometimes, you might also experience other symptoms, like fatigue. In severe cases, shortness of breath and fatigue can signal a heart attack or be a symptom of heart failure. How do you know when shortness of breath is a cause for concern and if you need tests done? An electrocardiogram, also known as an EKG or an ECG, may reveal the answers.

Causes for Shortness of Breath

Many different factors and conditions can lead to shortness of breath. These include:

  • allergies
  • asthma and other lung diseases
  • blood clot in the lungs
  • heart attack
  • heart failure
  • lung cancer
  • obesity
  • panic attack
  • pneumonia
  • poor air quality

If you are experiencing symptoms like shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain, and dizziness, you should see a healthcare provider right away.

Do You Need an EKG or Other Tests?

To diagnose the cause for your shortness of breath, your doctor will examine you and ask about any other symptoms you are experiencing. Your doctor might order tests to help with diagnosis, including an EKG. This simple test measures the electrical impulses in your heart.

Every time your heart beats, an electrical wave flows through it. This wave is what causes your heart to squeeze and pump blood through your body. An EKG can show your doctor whether your heart is beating normally and show if you are having or have had a heart attack. It can also help diagnose heart failure.

  • Other tests your doctor might perform include
  • blood oxygen level test
  • blood tests
  • chest X-ray
  • CT scan
  • spirometry to measure lung capacity and force of your breathing

What to Expect During an EKG

An EKG is a painless test done in your doctor’s office or a hospital. You will lie down on an exam table, where a nurse or technician will place several adhesive electrodes to your chest, arms and legs. (He or she might need to shave these spots before attaching the electrodes.) Wires attached to the electrodes are then connected to a computer that will measure and display your heart’s electrical activity. Your provider might also print the results out on paper. The entire procedure takes less than five minutes.

How Is Shortness of Breath Treated?

Treatment depends on the cause of your shortness of breath. Your doctor will develop a treatment plan based on your symptoms and test results.