Orthopnea is a shortness of breath that occurs when an individual lies down. It's different from dyspnea, a condition in which an individual has difficulty breathing in general.1Mukerji, Vaskar. ‘Dyspnea, Orthopnea, and Paroxysmal Nocturnal Dyspnea.’ NCBI, 1 Jan. 1990, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK213/
Orthopnea is caused by a disrupted flow of blood from an individual's heart to their lungs. Possible reasons for orthopnea include congestive heart failure, heart valve disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and sleep apnea. In many cases, individuals may find relief by propping themselves up on an extra pillow. If a person needs to be propped on three or more pillows to breathe properly, they should seek medical treatment.2‘Heart Failure Symptoms.’ University of Michigan Health, 31 Aug. 2020, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK213/
Shortness of Breath
Those who have orthopnea typically experience shortness of breath while lying down. They may find themselves trying to take bigger or longer breaths to get more air into their lungs.
In many cases, individuals may find quick relief by sitting in an upright position. After this, their breathing typically normalizes. However, the level of breathing difficulty varies. For some, the shortness of breath is minimal, while others may find breathing very difficult and experience additional symptoms or lingering effects. The cause of the orthopnea usually determines the level of breathing difficulty.