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Shortness of Breath & Chest Pain After Exercising

author image Linda Ray
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."
Shortness of Breath & Chest Pain After Exercising
Sudden chest pain can signal a heart attack. Photo Credit BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images

Any number of conditions can cause you to be short of breath and experience chest pain after you exercise. According to Medline Plus, some of those causes may be life-threatening, while others are not as critical. You should get emergency medical assistance if you feel a sudden tightening or pressure in your chest, feel nauseous or dizzy or if pain radiates down your left arm, between your shoulder blades or in your jaw.


If you are working out intensely and become overwhelmed or stressed, particularly if you are under pressure to win a competition, rapid breathing can lead to hyperventilation. The pressure created by your difficulty catching your breath can create chest pain. After exercising, you should practice taking deep, relaxing breaths to alleviate the symptoms.

Aortic Dissection

If you undergo a blow to the chest, you may develop an aortic dissection that occurs when the aorta is suddenly torn or damaged. The pain will worsen when you move, and you'll have extreme difficulty breathing when you stop and lie down after exercising. Lifting heavy weights that elevate your blood pressure can result in an aortic dissection that causes chest pain and shortness of breath. An aortic dissection can be life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention. You'll feel a sharp pain just below your chest bone when the damage occurs. Emergency surgery usually is required.

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Heart Attack

Many people believe they are having a heart attack when they suddenly have chest pain associated with shortness of breath, which can happen during or after your workout. Your chest will feel tight when this occurs, and if you are having a heart attack, you must call 911 immediately. Other conditions cause symptoms similar to a heart attack and can be just as deadly. Sudden severe chest pain with difficulty breathing also occurs when you have a pulmonary embolism, a collapsed lung or pneumothorax.


If you have asthma or an upper respiratory infection, you most likely will develop a cough or wheezing with the shortness of breath that can continue long after you stop working out. The coughing can cause chest pain. Stop and breathe through your inhaler to relieve the immediate symptoms and talk to your doctor about your ability to pursue similar exercises in the future. You may need to rest while taking antibiotics to clear up an infection. Other respiratory conditions that cause you to have difficulty breathing during physical activity that leads to severe coughing include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and chronic bronchitis.

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