Read below about shortness of breath when lying down, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your shortness of breath when lying down from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

This symptom can also be referred to as:
Dyspnea when lying down

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Shortness of Breath When Lying Down Symptoms

It shouldn't be a medical condition that takes your breath away. Have you ever woken up at night, breathless, needing to sit up and dangle your legs over the side of the bed to get relief? It's like waking up from a nightmare only to find that feeling of being smothered is real.

Shortness of breath when lying down is also called "orthopnea." It can happen whether you are sleeping or awake. Orthopnea plagues people with heart and lung conditions. People with sleep apnea are also prime targets for orthopnea.

In describing their experiences, people with orthopnea have said, "When I lie down, I feel...":

  • like I am hungry for air.
  • uncomfortable when I breathe.
  • like my chest is tightening.
  • like I can't take a deep enough breath.
  • I am out of breath.
  • I have to work hard to breathe.
  • I am being smothered.

Most orthopnea is caused by an underlying heart or lung condition. However, there are other conditions that could be leaving you gasping for air.

Shortness of Breath When Lying Down Causes Overview

Heart-related shortness of breath causes:

  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, aortic valve regurgitation, atrial fibrillation, myocarditis are some heart-related conditions that may cause orthopnea. Under such conditions, the heart is unable to pump effectively, and not enough oxygenated blood reaches your lungs.

Lung-related shortness of breath causes:

  • Bronchitis, pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pulmonary embolism and cystic fibrosis are some lung-related conditions that may cause orthopnea. Under these conditions, oxygen is not effectively transferred into your lungs, even if your heart is working well.

Other shortness of breath when lying down causes:

  • Sleep apnea, panic disorder, anemia, nasal congestion, pregnancy, gastrointestinal conditions, allergies and anaphylaxis, obesity and travelling to high altitudes are some other possible conditions that may cause orthopnea. Sleep apnea is one of the bigger offenders. It is more often seen in men, smokers, people who are overweight or have a sinus abnormality. Sleep apnea is often what causes the snoring, snorting and restlessness that forces your bed mate to sleep in the guest room.

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Shortness of Breath When Lying Down

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced shortness of breath when lying down. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.Congestive Heart Failure

    Congestive heart failure (CHF) is a form of heart failure that causes fluid to back up into the lungs and other tissue. Symptoms include trouble breathing and edema (swelling of ankles, hands)

    This is a lifelong condition but symptoms can be managed.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    cough, fatigue, shortness of breath, cough at night, shortness of breath on exertion
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  2. 2.Acute or Worsening Heart Failure

    Heart failure is a condition in which the heart can't pump enough blood to meet the body's needs. Heart failure does not mean that the heart has stopped or is about to stop working, but rather that the heart is not able to pump blood the way it should. Usually this happens when the heart has been damaged by another medical condition.

    Outlook is highly variable and depends on the underlying medical condition that caused the heart failure.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, shortness of breath on exertion
    Urgency:
    Emergency medical service
  3. 3.Hyperventilation Syndrome

    In hyperventilation syndrome, one can experience shortness of breath and often a person breaths fast and heavily. There is usually no physical problem causing these symptoms, and symptoms are often caused by anxiety, stress or emotions. Next to shortness of breath, one can experience symptoms of chest pain, palpitations or tingling in hands, feet and face. These symptoms occur commonly as attacks.

    Chronic with relapses

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    anxiety, shortness of breath, dizziness, racing heart beat, chest pain
    Symptoms that always occur with hyperventilation syndrome:
    rapid, deep breaths
    Symptoms that never occur with hyperventilation syndrome:
    shortness of breath after a few stairs
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

    Shortness of Breath When Lying Down Checker

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  4. 4.Aortic Valve Regurgitation

    Aortic valve regurgitation is a condition that occurs when your heart's aortic valve doesn't close tightly. This allows some of the blood that was just pumped out of the lower left chamber (left ventricle) to leak back into it.

    Can be severely acute or chronic.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    shortness of breath, racing heart beat, shortness of breath on exertion, shortness of breath when lying down, brief fainting episode
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  5. 5.Restrictive Cardiomyopathy

    Restrictive cardiomyopathy refers to a set of changes in how the heart muscle functions. These changes cause the heart to fill poorly (more common) or squeeze poorly (less common). Sometimes, both problems are present.

    Indefinite

    Rarity:
    Ultra rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain, racing heart beat, shortness of breath when lying down
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room
  6. 6.Dilated Cardiomyopathy

    MISSING

    MISSING

    Rarity:
    Ultra rare
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room

Shortness of Breath When Lying Down Treatments and Relief

Seek immediate medical care if you have orthopnea and:

  • any other heart attack symptoms. Heart attack symptoms include chest pain, nausea, profuse sweating, back, neck or arm pain.
  • severe shortness of breath, especially if severe enough that you are not able to talk.
  • are having an allergic reaction (no matter how minor).

Even if your shortness of breath when lying down cannot be cured, there are many steps you can take to limit how severe it is.

If you are experiencing relatively benign (not life-threatening) orthopnea, one of the best practices is to avoid sleeping or lying flat on your back. Understandably, this can be a difficult adjustment for back sleepers. You might fall asleep on your side, but that doesn't mean you will stay on your side. An unusual, but successful approach, is to help you stay off your back is to attach tennis balls to the back of your night shirt or you can actually buy one pre-made. You won't be able to roll onto your back.

Generally, relieving orthopnea requires treating the condition that is causing it. In the meantime, these are some other tricks for shortness of breath relief:

  • sleep in a semi-reclined position
  • wear nasal strips
  • after consulting a physician get a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine – you might look like Darth Vader while wearing it, but you won't sound like him anymore
  • lose weight
  • ask your dentist if there is a dental device that could help you

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Shortness of Breath When Lying Down

  • Q.Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?
  • Q.Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Q.Do you have a cough?
  • Q.Do you notice your heart beating hard, rapidly, or irregularly (also called palpitations)?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our shortness of breath when lying down symptom checker to find out more.

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Shortness of Breath When Lying Down Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced shortness of breath when lying down have also experienced:

    • 6% Shortness of Breath
    • 4% Tight, Heavy, Squeezing Chest Pain
    • 4% Cough
  • People who have experienced shortness of breath when lying down had symptoms persist for:

    • 36% Less Than a Day
    • 25% Over a Month
    • 21% Less Than a Week
  • People who have experienced shortness of breath when lying down were most often matched with:

    • 50% Acute or Worsening Heart Failure
    • 28% Congestive Heart Failure
    • 21% Hyperventilation Syndrome
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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