Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors
"What is causing my shortness of breath and back pain?"
I am female, 5'6, and about 160-170 pounds. Lately, I've been experiencing shortness of breath at random times. It usually lasts for a couple seconds, but it's becoming more and more frequent and the last couple days it's been almost the entire day. In addition to that I've been having severe back pain about a couple inches below my left shoulder blade. What could this be?
Thank you for your question, and I am sorry to hear about your symptoms. I would recommend that you be evaluated in an urgent care clinic or by your primary care physician. If your shortness of breath or pain are very severe, it would also be appropriate to go to the emergency room. Shortness of breath can be caused by many different processes. The most concerning would be a pulmonary embolism (ie a blood clot that has gone to the lungs). This is more likely to happen in women who smoke and/or take oral contraceptive pills, and the symptoms usually come on suddenly. If you have fever and a productive cough, pneumonia is another possibility. This would classically cause chest pain that is worse with deep inspiration. Asthma can cause shortness of breath and chest tightness, and this is generally associated with wheezing. Anemia is a common cause of shortness of breath and fatigue, although severe back pain would not be a common association. Finally, there are several causes of shortness of breath and back pain that can come from the heart. If you are young and otherwise healthy these would be less likely. However, if you have a history of heart disease or your symptoms are made worse with exertion and/or associated with sweating, nausea, or vomiting, you should be evaluated in the emergency department. Again, I would strongly recommend seeking medical care in a timely fashion.
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