We all know it’s better for your health to take the stairs, but do you ever feel out of breath when you climb to the third floor? You’re not alone, says Dr. Alice Perlowsky, a cardiologist who practices in Palm Springs, California.
If it happens on occasion, it may just be that you took the stairs more quickly than usual, you’re overtired, or your climbed more flights than you’re used to climbing. But if your find yourself huffing and puffing at the end of a climb more than occasionally, there may be something else at play.
The most likely cause is weight gain or even obesity — the heart and lungs can’t keep up with the exertion it takes to carry the extra weight up. Though it can happen to normal-weight women who haven’t seen a change on the scale if they’re out of shape.
“Once you’re in your 40s and beyond, your life can be very busy — you’re at the peak of your career, dealing with family, etc. — and your exercise routine can fall by the wayside,” she says. With a lack of exercise over time, your aerobic capacity diminishes, leaving you out of breath upon exertion — in this case, climbing stairs.
If you suddenly notice that the stairs feel like Mount Everest, get checked out by your doctor ASAP.
Deconditioning doesn’t happen overnight, though, so if you suddenly notice that the stairs feel like Mount Everest, get checked out by your doctor ASAP. “There could be cardiac or pulmonary reasons, such as anemia, coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, asthma, or COPD,” Perlowsky says. “It’s very important to remember that cardiac disease runs in families more so than many other diseases, so if your grandparents, mother, father, or sibling have it, your risk is much greater.”
Further, if that gasping or sputtering is accompanied by chest pains or tightness, swelling of the feet, a weird feeling of indigestion, or any other strong sensation of feeling “off,” seek medical attention right away.
“The symptoms of a heart attack for women are much different — not the ‘Hollywood heart attack’ we often see in the movies,” she says. “It could start more subtly, with shortness of breath.”