What Are the Causes of Shortness of Breath in the Elderly?


Several conditions could contribute to shortness of breath in the elderly, some of which are serious or potentially serious. Be sure to see your doctor if you experience shortness of breath.

Heart Attack

Heart attacks can cause shortness of breath; the symptom may occur with or without chest pain or discomfort, and may be accompanied by other symptoms like nausea or discomfort in other parts of the body. (See Reference 2)

Other Cardiovascular Problems

Shortness of breath can indicate a problem with the heart at any age. These problems could include heart failure, heart disease, and arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat). (See Resource 1)


Emphysema, a condition that affects the lungs, can cause shortness of breath, fatigue, chronic cough, wheezing and tightness in the chest. (See Reference 3)


Asthma may present in the elderly as shortness of breath, often accompanied by persistent cough or waking at night because of respiratory problems. Asthma is often overlooked in the elderly because symptoms can also be attributed to other problems. (See Reference 1)

Other Common Causes

In addition to the conditions outlined above, bronchitis, sinusitis, anemia, obesity, and tuberculosis could cause shortness of breath in the elderly. (See Resource 2)

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