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Learn about your 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.

Shortness of Breath When Lying Down Checker

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Your Shortness of Breath When Lying Down May Also be Known as:
Breathless when lying down
Can't fall asleep
Difficulty staying asleep
Waking up short of breath

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.

Top 4 Shortness of Breath When Lying Down Causes

  1. 1.Pulmonary Embolism

    A pulmonary embolism is a sudden blockage in an artery in the lungs. It is a serious condition that can cause permanent damage to the affected lung, low oxygen levels in your blood, or damage to other organs in your body from not getting enough oxygen.

    Call 911 immediately. This is a medical emergency that requires immediate diagnosis and treatment.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    shortness of breath, cough, fever, being severely ill, wheezing
    Urgency:
    Emergency medical service
  2. 2.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.

    You should seek immediate medical care at an ER, where an ultrasound can confirm the diagnosis, blood tests can determine the cause of the problem, and treatment is needed immediately to stabilize you.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain, racing heart beat, shortness of breath when lying down
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room

    Shortness of Breath When Lying Down Checker

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  3. 3.Carcinoid Syndrome

    Carcinoid syndrome is a group of symptoms associated with carcinoid tumors - abnormal growths of the small intestine, colon, appendix, and bronchial tubes in the lungs. Carcinoid syndrome is a condition that is seen in people with tumors that are advanced, meaning that they have been developing for a long time. The symptoms of this condition include skin flushing, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, and a rapid heartbeat.

    You should visit your primary care physician who will be able to coordinate your care with a specialist. Treating this condition involves treating the cancer with surgery or chemotherapy, and also using medications to control individual symptoms.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    racing heart beat, shortness of breath on exertion, wheezing, shortness of breath when lying down, episodes of face turning red
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  4. 4.Eisenmenger Syndrome (Tardive Cyanosis)

    Eisenmenger syndrome is a complication due to a heart defect. The defect causes increased blood flow to the lungs instead of the body.

    You should visit your primary care physician, who can prescribe medications that improve your quality of life. Surgery is usually not recommended when the syndrome has developed.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    shortness of breath, racing heart beat, shortness of breath on exertion, shortness of breath when lying down, lightheadedness
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

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.Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Q.Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?
  • Q.Do you currently smoke?
  • Q.Do you have a cough?

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

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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:

    • 5% Rib Pain on One Side
    • 5% Shortness of Breath
    • 4% Fatigue
  • People who have experienced shortness of breath when lying down had symptoms persist for:

    • 39% Less Than a Day
    • 22% Less Than a Week
    • 21% Over a Month
  • People who have experienced shortness of breath when lying down were most often matched with:

    • 4% Pulmonary Embolism

Shortness of Breath When Lying Down Checker

Take a quiz to find out why you’re having shortness of breath when lying down.

Take a quiz