New research shows that shortness of breath — a seemingly mild symptom that is frequently overlooked — could be the sign of something more serious.

A study from the University of Gothenburg has found that shortness of breath is often a symptom of potential heart failure or COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease).

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Lead researcher Nasser Ahmadi studied breathlessness in several studies with different study designs and populations, Medical XPress reported. One was a population-based study spanning about 1000 participants. Meanwhile, a second included about 100 patients who sought medical advice from their primary healthcare provider for shortness of breath.

"The patients who sought care for chronic breathlessness appeared to have a significantly impaired quality of life than the general population. They often had major problems completing everyday tasks. They suffered from different underlying diseases like a potential heart failure or a hidden obstructive lung disease that was developing," Ahmadi explained, according to Medical XPress .

Previous research has shown that one out of three individuals over 65 years of age in Sweden may suffer from breathlessness, Medical XPress reported.

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Dyspnea, the medical term for shortness of breath, is associated with more than two dozen diseases or health conditions in addition to COPD. According to medicinenet.com, these include asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, pneumothorax, anemia, lung cancer, inhalation injury, pulmonary embolism, anxiety,  high altitude with lower oxygen levels, congestive heart failure, arrhythmia, allergic reaction, anaphylaxis, subglottic stenosis, interstitial lung disease, obesity, tuberculosis, epiglottitis, emphysema, pulmonary fibrosis, pulmonary artery hypertension, pleurisy, croup, polymyositis, Guillain-Barré syndrome, sarcoidosis, rib fracture, and carbon monoxide poisoning.

"The fact that people do not seek medical advice for their breathlessness is often due to people associating their symptoms with the natural process of aging. But if you notice that you experience increased shortness of breath during exertion, you should seek medical attention," said Ahmadi, according to Medical XPress .

Source: Ahmadi NS, Mansson J, Lindblad U, Hildingh C. Breathlessness in everyday life from a patient perspective: A qualitative study using diaries. Palliative & Supportive Care. 2016.

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