ZocdocAnswersWoke up several times feeling dizzy and short of breath, why?

Question

Woke up several times feeling dizzy and short of breath, why?

I woke up last night several times in a state of not being able to breathe and having to sit up to be able to breathe again. Upon sitting up, I got an intense feeling of vertigo, but after just a few seconds, I was fine again. This happened about eight times last night and I'm worried that it was something bad. Can you give me any ideas of what this could have been? For history, this has happened once before in my life.

Answer

Awakening from sleep feeling that you are short of breath is a concerning symptom and could be an indicator of a heart or lung condition. For this reason, I strongly suggest that you make an appointment to see your doctor and undergo a complete evaluation. It will be important for him or her to obtain a complete history, perform a physical exam, and run any tests that are indicated. Having said that, three conditions come to mind when someone is awoken from sleep feeling short of breath. One is a heart arrhythmia. Especially given that you also have been experiencing a sense of "vertigo" or light-headedness associated with this shortness of breath, which is a common symptom of certain abnormal heart rhythms. The fact that these episodes resolved after only a few seconds of sitting up is also consistent with an intermittent arrhythmia that comes and goes. Another condition that this could be is heart failure. This term essentially means that the heart is not pumping as strongly as it should, and fluid can accumulate in the lungs for this reason when lying flat (like during sleep). The term used to describe someone with heart failure who is awoken from sleep with shortness of breath is paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea, or PND. Finally, one more likely cause of awakening feeling short of breath is obstructive sleep apnea. This occurs when the pharynx (in the back of your throat) relaxes during sleep and briefly obstructs air flow. This can lead to many brief episodes of cessation of breathing followed by awakenings that are so short that you might not even notice them. If you are overweight or obese, this is a risk factor for developing OSA, as is alcohol use. If you feel very tired during the day or have had an increase in blood pressure over time, this could indicate that you have been living with this condition. Again, given the concerning symptoms you are describing, I would strongly recommend you make an appointment to see your doctor. It may also be worth it to undergo a sleep study in order to be evaluated for obstructive sleep apnea.

This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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