Shortness of breath is a symptom of an underlying problem or problems, not a disease of its own. There is a whole spectrum of things that can cause people to be short of breath, but it frequently stems from a problem that’s cardiovascular (related to the heart) or pulmonary (related to the lungs). Potential cardiac causes may be coronary heart disease, heart failure (from weak squeezing ability of the heart or increased stiffness of the heart), valvular disease, or high blood pressure in the lungs. Potential pulmonary causes may be asthma, COPD/emphysema, or scarring of the lungs (pulmonary fibrosis).
Traditional workup for cardiovascular causes of shortness of breath includes stress testing to evaluate for coronary blockage and echocardiogram to evaluate for structural or valvular problems of the heart.
Southeastern Cardiology is the only facility in our region offering cardiopulmonary exercise testing, a unique way to assess patients with shortness of breath
SHAPE stands for Sub-maximal Heart and Pulmonary Evaluation, and it is a cardiopulmonary exercise test. This noninvasive test assesses oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide output in a patient while the exercise reflecting the performance capabilities of the heart, lung, and blood vessels . The advantage of SHAPE is that the variables are obtained not only at rest, but also during exercise. This provides superior evaluation when compared with assessments made only at rest. It only requires submaximal exercise making it easier for patients to perform and closely mimics their daily activities. This exercise tests allows your care team to determine if your shortness of breath may be due to the lungs, the heart, how the heart and lungs work together, or if it is due primarily to deconditioning (being "out of shape"). Therefore, evaluation with SHAPE can determine if the patient is actually limited by deconditioning rather than cardiopulmonary dysfunction. In addition to being able to potentially find an underlying cause of your shortness of breath, the testing also allows your care team to make recommendations to you regarding your exercise program.