Health & Medical Lung Health

What Causes Shortness of Breath in Elderly People?

    The Heart

    • Aging causes physiological changes in the heart. Some of these changes include stiffening of the heart valves and thickening of the heart. Due to these changes, the heart is not able to pump enough oxygenated blood to the rest of the body, and the patient can develop hypoxemia, which causes shortness of breath.

    Blood Vessels

    • As an individual ages, blood vessels become narrower due to lack of elasticity. The arteries leading to the heart may also become blocked by accumulation of plaque. This condition inhibits blood flow to the organs, which may manifest as shortness of breath.


    • With normal aging, the airways reduce in size, and the lungs become stiff and less elastic. These changes cause the lungs to hold less air, which means that less oxygen is available to the body, and shortness of breath can occur.


    • Elderly individuals who are overweight or obese may have difficulty breathing and experience shortness of breath. Obesity decreases the ability of the lungs to expand and increases the body's need for oxygen. Shortness of breath occurs because the lungs cannot meet the oxygen needs of the body due to obesity.

    Lung Infections

    • As a person gets older, the muscles needed for breathing get weaker. In addition to this, the cilia in the airways that are responsible for sweeping out mucus and other debris from the lungs are less functional in the older adult. These two conditions can cause accumulation of mucus in the lungs, and put the elderly adult at risk for lung infections like pneumonia, which can cause shortness of breath, among other symptoms.

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