What Is Orthopnea?

By elizabeth
Reviewed: dr. vanta
Article Sources Article Sources
  • 1. Vaskar Mukerji: 'Dyspnea, Orthopnea, and Paroxysmal Nocturnal Dyspnea.' Clinical Methods: The History, Physical, and Laboratory Examinations. 3rd Edition. 1990, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK213/
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Medical Expert Medical Expert

Orthopnea is the medical term for shortness of breath that occurs in the reclining position and is relieved by sitting or standing This differs from dyspnea, which refers to breathing issues an individual experiences in any position. However, it’s similar to paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea, which wakes a person an hour or two after they’ve fallen asleep.1Vaskar Mukerji: ‘Dyspnea, Orthopnea, and Paroxysmal Nocturnal Dyspnea.’ Clinical Methods: The History, Physical, and Laboratory Examinations. 3rd Edition. 1990, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK213/

More blood flows into the lungs when a person lies down. The heart must work harder to pump blood back out to the body. Congestion and fluid retention are also more prevalent in this condition. Impairment of these functions due to a disease can lead to orthopnea.

1. Causes

There are many potential causes for orthopnea, from moderate to life-threatening. The most common cause is a heart-related condition, such as high blood pressure, cardiomyopathy and heart failure. In those cases, the individual’s heart isn’t strong enough to redistribute blood throughout the reclining body efficiently. With the increased pressure this causes in the lungs, fluid accumulates and impairs breathing.

Other issues like obesity can make it hard to breathe while lying down. Fluid buildup is another culprit in lung conditions like pulmonary edema, pneumonia or pleural effusion, and ascites (accumulation of fluid in the abdomen). Diaphragm paralysis can also lead to orthopnea.


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