Becoming short of breath after physical activities or during
moments of extreme stress isn't uncommon. However, difficulty breathing when
lying down may be a sign of a serious medical condition.
Many things can cause difficulty breathing, including
diseases, anxiety disorders, and lifestyle factors. It isn’t always a medical
emergency, but you should make an appointment with your doctor.
causes difficulty breathing when lying down?
Common causes for difficulty breathing when lying down are:
- panic disorder
- respiratory infections
- sleep apnea
- chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
Sleep apnea causes shallow or brief pauses in breathing
while sleeping. This condition usually occurs due to an obstruction in the
Lying down too soon after eating may also cause difficulty
breathing. This may be due to food regurgitating up your esophagus or due to
the pressure of the food in your stomach pressing down on your diaphragm. Your
diaphragm separates your stomach from your lungs. Sitting up for a few hours
until you digest the food can often relieve this uncomfortable feeling.
If you’re obese or extremely overweight, you may experience
difficulty breathing when lying down. This is because excess weight puts
pressure on the lungs and diaphragm. Wearing tight clothing may cause the same
In some cases, breathing difficulty can be a sign of a
medical emergency. A severe cause of difficulty breathing when lying down is
to look for
Initial symptoms may include a feeling of being breathless
upon lying flat on your back. You may feel like you have difficulty taking deep
breaths or breathing out. If this symptom occurs due to a medical condition
such as sleep apnea or COPD, other symptoms may be present.
The symptoms of sleep apnea include:
- difficulty staying asleep
- feeling fatigued during the day
- snoring while sleeping
- waking up with headaches
- waking up with a sore throat
The symptoms of COPD include:
- chronic coughing
- difficulty breathing with activity
- frequent chest infections like bronchitis
If you experience any of the following symptoms along with difficulty
breathing, seek medical attention immediately:
- pain in the chest
- shooting pains in the arms and neck or shoulders
- a fever
- rapid breathing
- a rapid heart rate
- a weak pulse
- dizziness upon standing or sitting
to seek help
Breathing difficulty may not always be due to a serious medical condition,
but you should talk to your doctor about any breathing issues right away. Your
doctor will perform a physical exam to help them diagnose the underlying cause
of your breathing difficulties. They’ll ask you about your symptoms and medical
Tell your doctor about every over-the-counter and prescription medication you’re
taking. Certain drugs people take for treating pain, muscle stiffness, or
anxiety can cause breathing issues.
Your doctor will pay close attention to your heart and lungs during the
physical exam. Additional tests may be necessary, such as:
- chest X-rays to view the heart and lungs
- an echocardiogram to view and diagnose potential
problems with heart function
- an electrocardiogram to test the electrical activity of
are breathing issues treated?
Treatment will depend on the underlying cause of your breathing difficulty.
If you have a respiratory infection that causes breathing difficulty when
lying down, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics or antiviral medications to
help clear up an infection. However, minor chest infections may clear up without
the use of any medications in most cases.
You can temporarily relieve difficulty breathing due to obesity by sleeping
on your side instead of your back. Lying on your side decreases the pressure
being put on your lungs by the excess weight. Talk to your doctor about weight
loss. Ask them about diet plans. Losing weight can help prevent future health
concerns associated with obesity.
No cure for COPD is available, but you can relieve breathing difficulties
with fast-acting inhalers or other medications people use to clear lung
If you have difficulty breathing when lying down due to sleep apnea, you may
be able to help it by using a mouth guard or continuous positive airway
If an anxiety disorder is causing your breathing issues, various treatments
can help ease symptoms. Group or one-on-one therapy may help you cope with
anxiety. Treatment usually involves therapy combined with antidepressant or
antianxiety medications. These medications are available by prescription only.