Is shortness of breath a menopause symptom?

Eileen Durward
Ask Eileen

21 August 2023

Shortness of breath in perimenopause and menopause

Shortness of breath after a workout session or other strenuous activities is understandable and usually isn’t a cause for concern. But when breathlessness happens for no reason, it can be worrying.

Symptoms can include shortness of breath, also called "air hunger," and you may find that you can't seem to catch your breath.

You may also find that you're having to make more of an effort to breathe. If you think about it, we don't think about breathing when we're doing things, it’s a subconscious thing we do automatically. So, if you're actually having to focus on breathing, you're taking deeper breaths because you feel out of breath when you're not actually doing anything, then that would be one of the symptoms.

It can be that you're experiencing this when you didn't beforehand. If you're maybe just walking around the supermarket and you suddenly find that you're having to take a few deep breaths or even stop to catch your breath, then that certainly would be one of the issues here.

What can cause this symptom?

Shortness of breath during menopause can occur due to several reasons during perimenopause and menopause.

Lung function can be impacted: There was a study done looking at menopausal women, and they found that, over time, lung function did decrease just slightly. Current and past smokers among the women in the study had a steeper decline in lung function during menopause, and more age-related respiratory symptoms than non-smokers. (1)

But you may be a non-smoker and find you're suddenly getting that cough and that wheeziness as well.

The mucous membranes of the lungs can become drier: Falling oestrogen levels can affect the mucous membranes all over your body. We know that vaginal dryness is a really common symptom, due to this, but falling oestrogen levels can also affect the mucous membranes in the lungs. So, they dry out a little bit, and that's where you would end up getting the kind of wheeziness. And also, if your lungs are not ‘lubricated’ enough, then it's going be more difficult to expand them as you take air in.

Stress and shallow breathing: We know that if you're really stressed, you tend to shallow breathe more, so you’re only using the very top part of your lungs. You tend to have very shallow, quick breaths if you're suffering from stress and anxiety.

Excess weight can put additional strain on the respiratory system: We know in menopause and perimenopause that weight gain is a problem. So, if you put on quite a lot of weight, then that's going to affect your lung function, too.

Menopausal transition can also impact pre-existing conditions, including lung conditions and allergies: If you already have asthma, if you already tend to get quite severe hay fever, which is causing you to get that wheeziness, and cough, and need to take really deep breaths, then all the hormonal changes in the menopause could actually make that condition worse. So, this is one to be aware of.

Asthma can be really serious. So, if you find that your asthma is getting worse in perimenopause and menopause, then this is something you really need to speak to your doctor about, just to make sure that you're getting the correct treatment for this particular type of situation.

It can be other allergies, not just hay fever. But if you live in a very busy city, if there's a lot of air pollution, you may find that your lungs are far more affected or you can experience things like pet hair and fur allergies, paint and perfume allergies. Again, these can suddenly appear in perimenopause and menopause; but, if you're already susceptible, then these can get worse as well.

One other issue that's quite interesting that can be a factor is low blood pressure. Now, in menopause and perimenopause, getting high blood pressure is more the norm for the majority of women, and low blood pressure is one of these conditions that tend not to be recognised.

So, if you're getting wheeziness, breathlessness, and these symptoms are accompanied by dizziness or light-headedness, then it might be a good idea to get your blood pressure checked out, either by your doctor or, in the UK, you can actually ask your pharmacist to do it for you.

Dehydration: Our mucous membranes need lots of water in order to keep them really well hydrated. If you are dehydrated then your lungs can be affected.

What you can do to help yourself?

Remember the water. Drinking plenty of water, is really, really important, as always.

Do regular breathing exercises. And again, you can get super breathing exercises on YouTube. You only need to practice for a couple of minutes two or three times a day. That can be really, really helpful. And that's just to help to increase and strengthen your lungs generally, which is always a good thing.

Manage your stress. If you find you're doing really shallow, quick breathing, then anything you can do to reduce stress and anxiety is going to be helpful here as well.

For those of you that smoke, the problem with this is, obviously, it's going to affect your lung function. But if you've been smoking for a long time, that can actually bring your menopause on a few years earlier than normal. So, this is a really good reason to try and give up smoking. As far as I'm aware now, there's a lot of research also coming out about vaping being bad for the lungs. So just be aware. those of you who have maybe stopped smoking and have gone on to vape, that it could be a problem as well.

And remember, as I mentioned before, if you already have existing lung conditions that have started to get worse with all the hormonal changes, please speak to your doctor about this.

Also, if your lungs are getting a bit dry, a Sea Buckthorn Oil supplement can be really, really effective, so it's a good one to add in. And also, remember, Sea Buckthorn is good for vaginal dryness, dry skin, dry mouth, and dry eyes as well, so it's a really good menopausal remedy.

So, I hope you found this one helpful. If any of you have any other really good tips for this or you found a particular breathing exercise really helpful, then please do share them with us. I love to read everything.

Until next time, take care.

You may also find these topics helpful:

Deep breathing and how it can help ease perimenopause and menopause symptoms

Hayfever & Allergies - Why they can worsen or develop during menopause

Lung problems during the menopause

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