Chest Pressure & Shortness of Breath Upon Exertion

There are many different conditions that cause chest pain. When you have chest pain accompanied by shortness of breath, the reason may be an underlying medical condition. Different clues can help your physician determine the cause of your chest pain and shortness of breath, such as whether you experience the symptoms while resting or with physical exertion. There are several conditions that commonly cause chest pressure and shortness of breath during activity.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.


Angina is a common cause of chest discomfort and often occurs during periods of stress or physical activity. Symptoms occur when the blood vessels that supply the heart with blood and oxygen are narrowed or blocked off, resulting in chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, palpitations and nausea. Chest pain is typically felt behind the breastbone or slightly to the left of it and can radiate to the back, arm, jaw or shoulder. Patients diagnosed with angina are often given a medication called nitroglycerin, which is placed under the tongue during an angina attack. Angina typically improves with rest, medication and lifestyle changes.


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is the name for two respiratory conditions called emphysema and chronic bronchitis, which can cause inflammation and damage to the airways. COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States and can cause chest pain, wheezing, large amounts of mucus in the airways and shortness of breath, especially with exertion. Exposure to lung irritants, such as smoking, chemical fumes and air pollution, may contribute to COPD. There is no cure for COPD, but medications and breathing treatments can help COPD sufferers feel better and be as active as possible.


Asthma is an inflammatory disorder of the airways that provide oxygen to the lungs. Symptoms of an asthma attack include wheezing, shortness of breath, chest pain and coughing. During an attack, the amount of air able to pass through your airways decreases due to inflammation and swelling. Attacks are often triggered by dust, animal dander, pollen and smoke. Physical activity, weather changes and respiratory infections can also cause asthma attacks. Aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications may cause asthma attacks in certain individuals. Inhaled medications and prescription steroids are used to treat the symptoms of asthma. Seek emergency medical attention for severe asthma attacks that interfere with breathing.

Heart Attack

More than a million people in the United States have a heart attack each year. The most common symptom of a heart attack is chest discomfort in the center of your chest that feels like pressure, heaviness or severe pain. Pain may radiate to the arm, neck, back or stomach. You may also experience shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness and excessive sweating. Most heart attacks occur when a blood clot in the coronary artery blocks the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart muscle, sometimes resulting in permanent damage to the heart. Seek emergency treatment for a heart attack because early treatment can prevent damage to the heart and save your life.