I am pregnant but I run out of breath even after walking a short distance.  This did not happen with my other two pregnancies. What could be the cause? Ikara J

Dear Ikara, a number of pregnant women may have the same symptoms associated with pregnancy but sometimes, a pregnancy may not come with the same associated symptoms in women or the same person.

Shortness of breath or mild exertion can happen early on in the pregnancy or in the later months. However, when this is not accompanied by symptoms, it is unlikely that the breathlessness is due to a worrying condition. It is still necessary for your doctor to investigate its cause so that further advice is given.

Breathlessness in pregnancy without symptoms may be due to low fitness levels, becoming overweight or after eating a large meal, among other causes. 

Most times, when it happens in early in pregnancy, increased levels of hormones, especially progesterone which increases the depth of breathing so that more oxygen is taken to the growing baby may be the cause.

Physical exercises such as brisk walking or swimming (not soon after a big meal) and not eating lots of food, especially sweet or fatty foods as advised by the antenatal clinic can help. 

The hormonal issue, though uncomfortable, is harmless and symptoms usually improve as the body gets used to the hormones' bid to expand the lungs to offer more oxygen required by both the mother and growing baby.

With time, the uterus will gradually expand and move upwards, hence reducing the capacity of the lungs which leads to mild exertion. After delivery, this will most likely improve unless there is another cause which may require proper investigation and treatment.

Should any pregnant woman suddenly suffer from shortness of breath, especially after not experiencing the same with her previous pregnancies, or in addition to symptoms such as fatigue, chest pain, cough and difficulty breathing, then she should visit the antenatal clinic immediately. 

The doctors will be able to rule out and manage dangerous conditions including pneumonia, blood clots in the lungs, anaemia, preeclampsia, pre-existing asthma, or a heart condition among others.

Meanwhile, sleeping propped up, avoiding smoking, managing weight through a diet and physical exercise may all help manage your problem.

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