If This Happens While Lying Down, It Could Mean Something About Your Heart

Even if you've never taken a class in anatomy, you are aware that your heart plays an important role in keeping you alive. According to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), the heart has the important job of distributing blood to every organ in the body. The blood provides the body with the oxygen and nutrients that it needs. While only the size of your fist, the heart works with the nervous and endocrine system to control heart rate, heartbeat rhythm, and blood pressure.

When there's a problem with the heart or one of the systems that it supports, it can cause the heart to work too hard to deliver blood throughout the body. This can lead to heart disease and other diseases throughout the body. One of the most familiar ways to get information about how our heart is performing is having your blood pressure checked. However, something as simple as lying down could give you the first sign of heart trouble (via NHLBI).

Shortness of breath when you lie down

Most of us tend to think of being short of breath after running or doing some type of strenuous activity. However, shortness of breath while lying down could be a sign that there's something wrong with your heart. The medical term for shortness of breath shortly while lying down flat is called orthopnea, according to Verywell Health.

The shortness of breath is usually relieved as soon as the person elevates their head or sits up straight. Healthcare providers characterize the severity of orthopnea based on the number of pillows the person needs to stop feeling short of breath. For example, a person needing to prop their head on two pillows for relief is documented as having two-pillow orthopnea. Adding more pillows for rest and relief is a sign that the orthopnea is getting worse and is commonly a sign of a worsening heart problem (via Verywell Health).

A common symptom of congestive heart failure

Although orthopnea can be seen in other health conditions, it is a common symptom of congestive heart failure. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, congestive heart failure occurs when the body returns blood to the heart faster than it can pump out to the body. This condition happens when there is a problem with the way the heart works, or it occurs because of unhealthy heart habits over time. When someone with congestive heart failure lies down, the heart is too weak to pump the extra blood it receives from the legs and feet. As a result, the lungs absorb the extra fluid, which causes shortness of breath (via WebMD).

Not only is orthopnea a symptom of congestive heart failure, but it can also increase your risk for other heart conditions. A 2021 study in the Journals of American College of Cardiology concluded that the presence of orthopnea in heart failure patients indicated an increased risk of other cardiovascular problems. Reporting symptoms of shortness of breath to your doctor can help in diagnosing a serious heart problem and ultimately save your life.