What's causing my breathlessness?

Dr David Roche / 11 March 2015

Saga Magazine's GP, Dr Roche, answers a reader's question about whether self-help remedies can help with breathlessness.

Q: I am 82 and in reasonably good health, only taking tablets to control blood pressure and a low-dose statin.

My problem is getting out of breath on almost any exertion – not heaving for breath but panting. A spirometer test failed as I was unable to exhale hard enough to give a reading.

My GP has given me a Seretide 250 inhaler to use twice a day, but I don’t find it very helpful. Are there any self-help remedies?

A: I do not think that  self-help remedies will be beneficial because it sounds as though you only have half a diagnosis so far.

It should be possible to get some spirometry data from you, if that is not possible in the GP surgery then it could be done in hospital with more accurate equipment.

Once these results are available, your GP will have a much better idea if your lungs are to blame for the breathlessness or not.

Similar breathlessness can be produced by heart failure so you may need additional tests (ECG, echocardiogram and blood tests), these can be organized through your GP.

It sounds as though your GP suspects that your spirometry data would be poor and that you could have COPD (Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).

If this is a new diagnosis for you then you should have a chest x-ray to exclude other causes. COPD can be helped by the Seretide inhaler you have, but not always, there are several other inhalers to try which may be more beneficial.

If you do have COPD then you should exercise daily as much as you are able, try to avoid winter infections, have a flu jab and enquire whether you can get access to pulmonary rehabilitation classes to maximise your lung function. These are increasingly available and can be very successful.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.