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Our Bodies: Knowing When Shortness of Breath is a Problem

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Dear Dr. Leviser: I’m age 45. I recently started a fitness routine. However, after taking a beginner’s aerobics class or even walking one block, I feel out of breath and can feel an intense burning sensation in my chest. My husband says I could have a heart problem. I think I’m simply out of shape. Should I be concerned?

Dear M.P.: Shortness of breath is, in fact a possible indication of a heart condition, especially when combined with certain other symptoms, such as chest pain or a burning sensation in the chest. On the other hand, it may simply be a sign that your level of physical conditioning is less than optimal.
Because shortness of breath can accompany so many medical conditions, you need to see a doctor to be really sure of what’s causing your symptoms. Possible causes include lung diseases, such as emphysema and asthma, anemia, and imbalances, and excess acid in the blood pressure due to diabetes. If you have high blood, you could suffer from a related condition called left ventricular hypertrophy, or LVH, in which one of the chambers of the heart is enlarged. LVH can cause intense burning chest pain. A physician can carefully assess your situation and possibly order tests to diagnose the cause of your complaints. If it turns out that you are simply out of shape, then an appropriate program of exercise will improve your situation over time.
Women, particularly African American women often fail to recognize the symptoms of heart disease and don’t seek medical attention in time to treat the problem before its too late. American Heart Association studies show, if an African American woman complains about chest pain or shortness of breath at all, she’s probably most likely to tell a friend or family member instead of seeking timely medical attention.
Don’t give up on your fitness program (unless there’s a problem). However, since you are not used to working out on a regular basis its best to see your physician or health care professional before you resume your fitness regime.

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