Breathlessness

Breathlessness under 20 weeks

Getting out of breath is normal. It’s a natural response when you do something that requires physical effort and your body needs more oxygen and energy. For example, when you run for a bus. Getting out of breath when we exercise is a positive reaction and part of keeping our bodies fit and strong. If you get out of breath when you are sitting or standing still its best to tell your midwife or doctor.

Other causes of breathlessness during pregnancy

Anaemia

Anaemia (a low haemoglobin level) can cause shortness of breath. You are offered blood tests during pregnancy to look for anaemia. Let your midwife know if you are feeling breathless at your next appointment. Some women may need iron tablets to improve their haemoglobin level.

Asthma

Pregnancy may make asthma symptoms worse. Talk to your GP urgently if you have a history of asthma and notice your shortness of breath is getting worse. Continue your current treatments including inhalers as these are all safe for pregnancy.

Nervousness and anxiety 

Some women who are nervous or anxious may feel at times that their breathing is faster and or more difficult. Sometimes this can be as severe as a panic attack, when you get a rush of intense mental and physical symptoms. It can start quickly and for no obvious reason.

A panic attack can be very frightening and distressing and can often include a feeling of breathlessness. Although panic attacks are frightening, they're not dangerous. An attack will not cause you any physical harm and will usually resolve within 5 to 20 minutes.

If you are on treatment for anxiety discuss this with your midwife or GP. Most treatments, if needed can be continued through pregnancy. Click here for more information on maternal mental health

Pulmonary Embolism (blood clot in your lung)

Pulmonary Embolism (PE) is rare, but pregnancy hormones do increase your risk (1 in 1000 pregnancies).  Your own personal risk of developing a clot is assessed by your midwife throughout your pregnancy and after birth. You can reduce your risk by drinking enough fluids, staying mobile, stopping smoking, having a healthy weight. Please tell us about any travel plans or family history of blood clots.

COVID-19

If you are experiencing breathlessness after testing positive for COVID-19 please refer to https://what0-18.nhs.uk/pregnant-women/concerns-during-pregnancy/covid-19-coronavirus-infection

Call 999 if you have any of the following:

  • Have a sudden onset of severe breathlessness

  • Feel breathless with chest pain or loss of consciousness

  • Feel breathless and have a racing heart at rest

  • Feel breathless and have a known severe heart or lung condition

  • Feel breathless with severe wheeze and known asthma, not responding to your usual inhaler medication

Contact your GP surgery (NHS111 out of hours) today if you if you have any of the following:

  • Feel breathless during the night when lying down

  • Feel breathless and have pain when taking a deep breath in or cough

  • Feel breathless and suffer with asthma and not experiencing severe wheeze or tight chest

  • Have a chesty cough (you may cough up green or brown mucous), a temperature over 38°C or feeling unwell 

  • Your chesty cough lasts longer that 14 days

  • You feel mildly breathless when physically active or talking

  • Your breathlessness improves after a few moments at rest

  • You are able to carry on with your normal daily activities

  • You have a cough, without a temperature and are feeling otherwise well

 

Discuss this with your midwife at your next appointment. Contact your GP surgery if you are still worried.

Self care

  • Rest when you need to
  • Stop smoking
  • Continue to take any regular asthma medication
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