Taking back control: Improving habits to combat shortness of breath

Written by: Mr Jakub Lagan
Edited by: Sophie Kennedy

Experiencing frequent shortness of breath can not only be uncomfortable, but can also be a cause for concern in terms of your overall health. In this informative article, renowned consultant cardiologist Mr Jakub Lagan gives invaluable practical advice on improving breathing control and avoiding triggers for breathlessness. The revered specialist also details the possible causes of shortness of breath and how bad breathing habits can contribute to breathing problems.



Why do people experience shortness of breath?


Experiencing frequent shortness of breath can be concerning. Fortunately, there are a number of steps you can take to improve your ability to control your breathing and to help relieve discomfort. By improving symptoms of breathlessness, you can also help to avoid developing further respiratory problems in the future.


There are a number of factors which can be behind breathlessness, from your overall fitness to bad breathing habits and even your thoughts. Most often, shortness of breath can be caused by your lifestyle, meaning that some small changes can help to avoid triggers.


Unfortunately, in some cases, breathlessness can be caused by a more serious condition, which will need specialist management and treatment.


Shortness of breath which occurs frequently or while at rest could be indicative of an underlying condition affecting the heart or lungs, such as asthma, anaemia, abnormal heart function or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. If you are concerned about shortness of breath, you should visit a doctor so that further testing can be performed where necessary.


How can I improve symptoms of breathlessness?


Being frequently short of breath could be down to your lifestyle. By improving your overall health and fitness level, most people can improve their symptoms of breathlessness. There are a number of lifestyle modifications which can help to resolve shortness of breath, including:

  • losing excess weight, particularly if obesity is contributing to your breathing problems
  • partaking in regular exercise to increase your fitness
  • avoiding physical exertion in very hot weather or at high altitudes
  • quitting smoking, as well as avoiding second-hand smoke, allergens and pollutants


How can bad breathing habits cause shortness of breath?


Some breathing habits that we pick up over time can make you feel as though you are short of breath, even when you haven’t exerted yourself very much. Instinctively, we often try to breathe faster to take in more air when we are feeling breathless. However, in many cases, this doesn’t really help the body to regain breathing control.


Short, quick breaths are more taxing and are only taken in through the chest, as opposed to the whole of the lungs. This can quickly make you feel tired and cause discomfort, rather than relieving the feeling of being short of breath. In contrast, many types of relaxation practice will often ask you to inhale deeply and hold your breath briefly before exhaling slowly. This is far more effective in relieving breathlessness as it allows plenty of oxygen to reach your lungs and move around your body. Learning better breathing control techniques can help you to manage feelings of shortness of breath and even avoid them all together.


How can I improve my breathing control?


By frequently practising the following breathing exercise, you can strengthen your breathing control which in turn can help to resolve and limit breathlessness. You should complete the following exercise while sitting down in a relaxed position.


  1. Allow your neck and shoulders to relax into the position which feels best and allows you to breathe most fully and comfortably. This helps to relieve tension in the body and optimises the position of the diaphragm, our primary breathing muscle.
  2. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach.
  3. Close your eyes to help you to fully focus on your breathing.
  4. Inhale slowly through your nose, keeping your mouth closed. As the air reaches deep into your lungs, you should feel your stomach expand against your hand. The other hand, placed on your chest, should not feel a significant movement.
  5. Exhale through the nose and observe how your stomach contracts.
  6. Continue to take slow and relaxed breaths with a smooth inhale and exhale. You should breathe out for slightly longer than you breathe in, with a short natural pause between inhaling and exhaling.




Mr Lagan is one of the UK’s leading consultant cardiologists and practises at the revered Venturi Cardiology clinic. If you are concerned about shortness of breath and would like to schedule a consultation with Mr Lagan, you can do so by visiting his Top Doctors profile.

By Mr Jakub Lagan

Dr Jakub Lagan is a consultant cardiologist in Warrington who specialises in cardiac imaging, cardiac computed tomography and stress echocardiograms alongside cardiac magnetic resonance, CT coronary angiograms and echocardiograms.  He privately practises at Venturi Cardiology while his NHS base is the Royal Liverpool University Hospital.

In his daily practice, he deals with all aspects of general cardiology and supervises cardiac computed tomography, magnetic resonance imaging and echocardiography lists. He also coordinates imaging multidisciplinary meetings which are a forum to discuss challenging cardiac imaging cases.

Dr Lagan studied medicine at the Jagiellonian University in Cracow, Poland and at the University of Antwerp, Belgium. He was recognised as one of the top students in his cohort and was awarded academic scholarship for four consecutive years. He also received the Socrates/Erasmus Exchange Programme Scholarship which allowed him to study in Antwerp, Belgium. Already as a medical student, he developed a keen interest in cardiology, winning prizes at the Medical Students’ Conferences for his work on hypertension.

Dr Lagan underwent his general medical and cardiology training in Merseyside and developed his sub-specialty interest in cardiac imaging early on. He has worked and trained in many hospitals in the North West including Aintree University Hospital, Royal Liverpool University Hospital, Countess of Chest Hospital, Arrowe Park Hospital, Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital and Wythenshawe Hospital.

Dr Lagan has extensive expertise in all aspects of cardiac imaging and holds a variety of internationally recognised imaging accreditations including transthoracic echocardiography (BSE, British Society of Echocardiography), transoesophageal echocardiography (BSE, British Society of Echocardiography), cardiac computed tomography (SCCT, Society of Cardiovascular Computed Tomography) and cardiac magnetic resonance (SCMR, Society for Cardiovascular Magnetic Resonance). After completing his cardiac imaging training, he underwent additional three month long cardiac magnetic resonance fellowship at the internationally acclaimed Brompton Hospital in London.

Dr Lagan completed a four year long PhD programme in cardiac imaging at the University of Manchester. During that time, he was awarded a Clinical Pump-Priming Scholarship and he was a recipient of the Clinical Research Training Fellowship Grant from the British Heart Foundation (FS/17/47/32805). His research focused on links between a variety of cardiac and systemic conditions and cardiac inflammation. Dr Lagan has an extensive list of publications including eighteen articles in peer reviewed journals and nineteen abstracts. His research has been presented at a vast number of international conferences and has included sixteen poster presentations and nine oral presentations.

The largest trial Dr Lagan supervised enrolled over 600 patients and examined links between chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and heart failure. His work was published in a high impact medical journal (JACC Cardiovascular Imaging), presented at the International SCMR Conference and it won the Clinical Early Career Award.

Dr Lagan also has a keen interest in medical education holding the Royal College of Physicians' 'Doctors as Educators' accreditation and being an associate fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

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