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Jones Regional Medical Center Urgent Care - Anamosa

1795 Highway 64 East
Anamosa, IA 52205

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UnityPoint Clinic - Express (Ankeny)

1055 Southwest Oralabor Road
Ankeny, IA 50023

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UnityPoint Clinic - Express (Bett Plex)

5185 Competition Drive
Bettendorf, IA 52722

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UnityPoint Clinic - Express (Jordan Creek)

180 Jordan Creek Pkwy
West Des Moines, IA 50266

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UnityPoint Clinic - Express (Lindale)

153 Collins Road Northeast
Cedar Rapids, IA 52402

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UnityPoint Clinic - Express (Marshalltown)

1704 South Center Street
Marshalltown, IA 50158

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UnityPoint Clinic - Express (North Crossing)

2134 Logan Avenue
Waterloo, IA 50703

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UnityPoint Clinic - Express (Peck's Landing)

1940 Blairs Ferry Rd.
Hiawatha, IA 52233

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UnityPoint Clinic - Express (Peoria)

8914 North Knoxville Avenue
Peoria, IL 61615

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UnityPoint Clinic - Express (Prairie Parkway)

5100 Prairie Parkway
Cedar Falls, IA 50613

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UnityPoint Clinic - Express (San Marnan)

1655 East San Marnan Drive
Waterloo, IA 50702

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UnityPoint Clinic - Express (Washington)

209 North Cummings Lane
Washington, IL 61571

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UnityPoint Clinic - Express (Waukee)

950 E Hickman Rd
Waukee, IA 50263

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UnityPoint Clinic - Express (Waverly)

101 Cedar River Pkwy 101
Waverly, IA 50677

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UnityPoint Clinic - Express at Duck Creek

1417 Kimberly Road
Bettendorf, IA 52722

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UnityPoint Clinic Behavioral Health Urgent Care - Des Moines

1250 East 9th Street
Des Moines, IA 50316

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UnityPoint Clinic Express - United Medical Park

1731 West Ridgeway Avenue
Waterloo, IA 50701

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UnityPoint Clinic Express (Fort Dodge)

2728 2nd Avenue South
Fort Dodge, IA 50501

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UnityPoint Clinic Express Care - Bettendorf

3415 53rd Avenue
Bettendorf, IA 52722

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UnityPoint Clinic Express Care - Moline

106 19th Avenue
Moline, IL 61265

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UnityPoint Clinic Express Care - North Port

3426 North Port Drive
Muscatine, IA 52761

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UnityPoint Clinic Express Care - SouthPark Pointe

3904 16th Street
Moline, IL 61265

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UnityPoint Clinic Family Medicine and Walk-In Care - Cascade

610 2nd Avenue Northeast
Cascade, IA 52033

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UnityPoint Clinic Family Medicine and Walk-In Care - Peosta

8456 Commercial Ct
PO Box 80
Peosta, IA 52068

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UnityPoint Clinic First Care - East Peoria

2535 East Washington Street
East Peoria, IL 61611

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UnityPoint Clinic First Care - Peoria Heights

1120 East War Memorial Drive
Peoria Heights, IL 61616

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UnityPoint Clinic Urgent Care - Altoona

2720 8th Street Southwest
Altoona, IA 50009

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UnityPoint Clinic Urgent Care - Ankeny Medical Park

3625 North Ankeny Boulevard
Ankeny, IA 50023

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UnityPoint Clinic Urgent Care - Ingersoll

2103 Ingersoll Avenue
Des Moines, IA 50312

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UnityPoint Clinic Urgent Care - Marion

2992 7th Avenue
Marion, IA 52302

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UnityPoint Clinic Urgent Care - Merle Hay

4020 Merle Hay Road
Des Moines, IA 50310

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UnityPoint Clinic Urgent Care - Southglen

6520 Southeast 14th Street
Des Moines, IA 50320

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UnityPoint Clinic Urgent Care - Sunnybrook

5885 Sunnybrook Drive
Sioux City, IA 51106

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UnityPoint Clinic Urgent Care - Urbandale

5200 NW 100th Street
Urbandale, IA 50322

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UnityPoint Clinic Urgent Care - West

2255 John F Kennedy Road
Dubuque, IA 52002

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UnityPoint Clinic Urgent Care - Westside

2375 Edgewood Road Southwest
Cedar Rapids, IA 52404

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How to Tell If Your Breathing Is Normal

Woman having shortness of breath while exercising, what's normal and what's not

Ever feel as though you can’t catch your breath? That heavy, can’t-quite-get-enough-air feeling that leaves you wondering if you overdid it or if something is wrong? Pulmonologist Sandeep Gupta, MD, UnityPoint Health, clarifies what’s normal and what’s not for shortness of breath, including when it’s time to be seen by a doctor.

What Does Shortness of Breath Feel Like?

Shortness of breath, or dyspnea, is difficulty breathing when resting or performing every day, age-appropriate tasks. Shortness of breath is commonly associated with symptoms of fatigue and anxiety, as well as a possible cough and/or chest pain.

“Shortness of breath can be sudden, or it can present slowly over time,” Dr. Gupta says. “Sudden shortness of breath may be caused by a secondary infection in the already compromised lung from lung disease. Slow onset usually occurs if someone is a long-standing smoker, which also leads to lung disease.”

Shallow breathing is not the same thing as shortness of breath. Shallow breathing isn’t considered dyspnea if the person is comfortable performing daily tasks.

“Technically, shallow breathing means shorter inhaling and exhaling than normal breathing but with an equal cadence. While in shortness of breath, inhalation is usually much shorter than exhalation,” Dr. Gupta says.

Shallow breathing can become shortness of breath when normal tasks are no longer possible or if feelings of anxiousness start to occur.

Dyspnea Causes

Many conditions can be associated with shortness of breath. Dr. Gupta lists the most common.

  • Asthma. Reversible inflammation and constriction in the airway (bronchi) that makes both inhaling and exhaling difficult.
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD). Irreversible condition marked by slow changes in the breathing tubes (bronchi and alveoli) that makes exhalation difficult.
  • Heart attack. Causes either decreased blood flow to the lungs or congestion of the lungs with fluid.
  • Interstitial lung disease. Damage in the lung tissue from various long-term causes, like smoking, job environment, etc.

“Typically, people start to feel short of breath in their 50s, as changes take time to progress. When we’re young, we can make up for reduced lung function with our physical state,” Dr. Gupta says.

If someone experiences shortness of breath at a young age, Dr. Gupta says it’s most commonly from asthma or acute bronchitis. In certain cases, like emphysema or early onset cardiac diseases, genetics may play a role.

Shortness of Breath from Anxiety

Shortness of breath is a common symptom of anxiety. This is a normal reaction by the body.

“If people notice shortness of breath while feeling anxious, they should try to find the cause of the anxiety, get out of the situation and calm themselves down. Symptoms can progress to a panic attack. So, if things don’t improve, it’s best to seek urgent medical attention,” Dr. Gupta says.

Shortness of Breath from COVID-19

Shortness of breath is also one of the symptoms experienced by those who contract the COVID-19 virus. Dr. Gupta says your experience with this symptom could vary depending on the severity of the viral infection.

“Shortness of breath can be mild to very severe. The symptoms could start with a mild cough and shortness of breath with exertion and exercise, and then it progresses to be shortness of breath while at rest,” Dr. Gupta says.

Shortness of breath with COVID-19 begins because of the viral inflammation in the body, which damages the lungs. That can cause pneumonitis and pneumonia. Dr. Gupta says, unfortunately, the virus can worsen quickly causing hospitalization.

If you’re experiencing shortness of breath from COVID-19, contact your care team to determine the best approach for your care.

Shortness of Breath with Exercise

If you’re just finishing a hard workout, feeling out of breath isn’t too unusual. But, if you feel like you have regular shortness of breath with exercise, Dr. Gupta suggests keeping this in mind.

“An important factor when working out is the overall conditioning shape of the body. Slowly building in intensity during your workouts should help with feeling less winded,” Dr. Gupta says.

However, there are some shortness of breath symptoms that aren’t normally associated with exercise and shouldn’t be ignored. See a doctor if you experience any of the following:

  • High heart rate with chest heaviness
  • Chest pain, pressure or palpitations
  • Paleness
  • Dizziness or sinking sensation
  • Fatigue
  • Fainting

Shortness of Breath Treatment

If shortness of breath is an isolated event, Dr. Gupta says you can try these methods to feel better at home:

  • If associated with a cough or congestion, try using steam or over-the-counter decongestants to relieve feeling short of breath.
  • If wheezing, use an inhaler with your provider’s approval.

“If shortness of breath continues for a couple of hours, doesn’t get better or comes back, it’s always safest to seek medical attention,” Dr. Gupta says.

Every person is different, and treatment options differ with disease causes. Having an accurate diagnosis by a pulmonary specialist is key to fully managing shortness of breath.

“Consult your doctor as soon as possible to get a diagnosis and treatment plan. The sooner the diagnosis, the simpler the treatment can be. Waiting too long can make the disease progress and get more complex,” Dr. Gupta says.


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