Breathing difficulty - lying down


Breathing difficulty while lying down is an abnormal condition in which a person must keep the head raised by sitting or standing to be able to breathe deeply or comfortably.

A type of breathing difficulty while lying down is paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea. This condition causes a person to wake up suddenly during the night feeling short of breath.


This is a common complaint in people with some types of heart or lung problems. Sometimes the problem is subtle. People may only notice it when they realize that sleep is more comfortable with lots of pillows under their head, or their head in a propped-up position.


Causes may include:

Home Care

Your health care provider may recommend self-care measures. For example, weight loss may be suggested if you are obese.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

If you have any unexplained difficulty in breathing while lying down, call your health care provider.

The health care provider will perform a physical exam and ask questions about the problem.

Questions may include:

The physical exam will include special attention to the heart and lungs (cardiovascular and respiratory systems).

Tests that may be performed include the following:

Treatment depends on the cause of the breathing problem.

You may need to use oxygen.

Review Date: 1/31/2015
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, medical director and director of didactic curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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