Shortness Of Breath / Breathing Difficulty

What Causes Breathing Difficulty When Not Active?

Breathing difficulty when not active can have various causes, ranging in severity from 'troubling' to 'generally fatal'.  Finding the true cause means ruling out or confirming each possibility – in other words, diagnosis.

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Diagnosis is usually a complex process due to the sheer number of possible causes and related symptoms.  In order to diagnose breathing difficulty when not active, we could:

  • Research the topic
  • Find a doctor with the time
  • Use a diagnostic computer system.
The process is the same, whichever method is used.

Step 1: List all Possible Causes

We begin by identifying the disease conditions which have "breathing difficulty when not active" as a symptom.  Here are eight of many possibilities (more below):
  • Mitral Valve Prolapse
  • Ovarian Cancer
  • Ascites
  • Magnesium Toxicity
  • Congestive Heart Failure
  • Pneumonia
  • Vitamin B12 Need
  • Valley Fever (Coccidioidomycosis)

Step 2: Build a Symptom Checklist

We then identify all possible symptoms and risk factors of each possible cause, and check the ones that apply:
some vitamin B12 supplementation
mild unexplained fevers
occasional unexplained fevers
much magnesium supplementation
elevated urine MMA levels
recent onset nausea
magnesium-based antacid use
frequent drowsiness
broad-spectrum antibiotic use
low diastolic blood pressure
multiple swollen inguinal nodes
African ethnicity
... and more than 100 others

Step 3: Rule Out or Confirm each Possible Cause

A differential diagnosis of your symptoms and risk factors finds the likely cause of breathing difficulty when not active:
Cause Probability Status
Ascites 91% Confirm
Pneumonia 16% Unlikely
Congestive Heart Failure 14% Unlikely
Valley Fever (Coccidioidomycosis) 4% Ruled out
Vitamin B12 Need 0% Ruled out
Magnesium Toxicity 0% Ruled out
Ovarian Cancer 0% Ruled out
Mitral Valve Prolapse 0% Ruled out
* This is a simple example to illustrate the process

Arriving at a Correct Diagnosis

The Analyst™ is our online diagnosis tool that learns all about you through a straightforward process of multi-level questioning, providing diagnosis at the end.

If you indicate having breathing problems, The Analyst™ will ask further questions including this one:
If you ever experience shortness of breath when you are not physically active, how would you describe it?
Possible responses:
→ I am never breathless when at rest / don't know
→ Occasional/mild breathlessness, not a big problem
→ Regular/moderate breathlessness, quite worrying
→ Serious sudden shortness of breath, very worrying
Based on your response to this question, which may indicate either shortness of breath when at rest or sudden shortness of breath, The Analyst™ will consider possibilities such as:

Shortness of breath can occur with large ascites that causes pressure on the diaphragm and fluid around the lungs.

Congestive Heart Failure

Congestive heart failure leads to reduced blood supply to the kidneys, which leads in turn reduced kidney function, and in turn excess fluid retention (edema).  The lungs may become congested with fluid (pulmonary edema) and thus the ability to exercise is decreased.


The common symptoms of pneumonia include breathlessness.

Pulmonary Embolism

The most important symptom of pulmonary embolism is breathlessness, which often occurs suddenly and for which there is no other explanation.

Concerned or curious about your health?  Try The Analyst™
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