A low level of oxygen in the blood.


To cope with shortness of breath caused by hypoxemia, don't smoke and avoid secondhand smoke. Regular exercise also can boost strength and endurance.

When to seek immediate medical care

Seek medical care immediately if there is:

  • Sudden onset of shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.
  • Shortness of breath with chest pain.
  • Serious shortness of breath above 8,000 feet (about 2,400 meters) with a cough, rapid heartbeat or weakness. These are symptoms of pulmonary edema, which can be deadly.

When to make a doctor's appointment

Make an appointment to see a health care professional if there is:

  • Shortness of breath at rest or after slight activity.
  • Shortness of breath that doesn't get better quickly after activity.
  • Shortness of breath or a sense of choking when waking up.

Last Updated Jul 22, 2023

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