Chapter 3: Symptoms and health concerns

Shortness of breath – What is it and what may cause it

Shortness of breath is an uncomfortable awareness of breathing. It’s a feeling that is experienced by a person rather than something that is observed by someone else. Sometimes a person may appear to be breathing quickly or with difficulty, but they feel quite comfortable.

If a person with advanced illness feels short of breath, it is likely linked to their illness. It could be because of general weakness and lack of energy, but it could also be caused, or made worse by other reasons. Roll your mouse over each box below to see some reasons.




Tumours and swelling may block air flow through the windpipe


Lung problems



Fluid buildup, tumours, infection, or side effects of cancer treatment


Low red blood count



Fewer “oxygen carriers” to move oxygen through the body





Feelings of anxiety can make people feel short of breath and increase anxious feelings


Other medical problems



A history of heart lung problems like emphysema or asthma


Keeping track

Be sure to note the person’s shortness of breath in the tracking journal. This will help to share information with their healthcare provider.

Click here to see the questions the healthcare provider may ask. You might use these questions to guide the tracking journal.