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Breathlessness is a difficulty in breathing or shortness of breath and may first be noted when running for a bus or going up a flight of stairs. Symptoms of cough, fever and chest pain may also be present. Breathlessness may occur slowly over a few days or weeks or happen more suddenly depending on the cause.


If accompanied with cough and fever then this is usually due to an underlying lung infection (pneumonia). Causes include bacterial infections, tuberculosis or opportunistic infections such as Pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP), aspergillosis and histoplasmosis. The risk of PCP is, however, uncommon in someone whose CD4 count is greater than 200 cells/mm3.

Non-infective causes of breathlessness include Kaposi's sarcoma in the lungs, asthma, heart problems and a low blood count (anaemia). Anxiety can worsen breathlessness, or cause breathlessness in its own right.

What to do

It is important to seek urgent medical advice because with pneumonia, early treatment and diagnosis will usually result in less severe illness and more rapid recovery. Apart from treating the underlying cause, some cases of breathlessness may be relieved by breathing oxygen via a mask, depending on the cause. This also allows body tissues to get the supply of oxygen they need, avoiding damage. Morphine and related drugs may also be used to treat breathlessness among people with active disease.

See also: Cough.

Community Consensus Statement on Access to HIV Treatment and its Use for Prevention

Together, we can make it happen

We can end HIV soon if people have equal access to HIV drugs as treatment and as PrEP, and have free choice over whether to take them.

Launched today, the Community Consensus Statement is a basic set of principles aimed at making sure that happens.

The Community Consensus Statement is a joint initiative of AVAC, EATG, MSMGF, GNP+, HIV i-Base, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, ITPC and NAM/aidsmap

This content was checked for accuracy at the time it was written. It may have been superseded by more recent developments. NAM recommends checking whether this is the most current information when making decisions that may affect your health.

NAM’s information is intended to support, rather than replace, consultation with a healthcare professional. Talk to your doctor or another member of your healthcare team for advice tailored to your situation.