Does Belly Fat Cause Shortness of Breath?

Your waistline (belly fat) can be one of indicators of your health. In general, it also can determine the level of your physical activity. Sedentary individuals are likely to have more excess pounds of abdominal fat, even though if they have healthy weight. And did you know that it is also linked to some serious health consequences. For instance, it can cause shortness of breath (breathlessness) or make this symptom worse!

What is shortness of breath (breathlessness)?

When shortness of breath strikes, it can be very frightening. You’re also likely to feel anxious whether it will get worse. Or you may feel embarrassed, change your behavior, and reduce the levels of your daily routines.

Medically, feeling of breathlessness is called dyspnoea. It can be acute (if it strikes suddenly, short-term) or chronic (it comes on gradually over a period of time).

image_illustration397Acute dyspnoea usually requires immediate treatment, since it can be an emergency condition. It can come and go, too!

Chronic dyspnoea may not be as frightening as acute dyspnoea. Typically it develops gradually, but it can last for weeks, months, or even years. It is long-term breathlessness.

Who is at high risk?

Anyone can feel out of breath at some time. For instance, it’s common to have this symptom after heavy physical activity. For such case, this is considered perfectly normal. Just wait a few seconds, and you usually will back to breathe normally.

The problem comes when feeling of breathlessness is unexpected, more difficult to improve, or unable to control. For such case, this is considered not normal and the treatment is usually necessary! This is what we’re talking about!

The bad news, nowadays it can affect people of all ages. It can be due to a serious underlying condition, too. For instance, smokers are likely to have this symptom due to heart disease.

Common causes of breathlessness

The following are some common causes of acute dyspnoea:

  1. Bronchitis, pneumonia, or other lung infections
  2. A flare-up of obstructed airflow in the lungs such as COPD or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It’s quite common to see patients with COPD to feel more out of breath. This is usually accompanied by tiredness, and usual ways to control breathlessness don’t work!
  3. A flare-up of asthma. In this flare-up, the chest can be tight and uncomfortable.
  4. A blockage in pulmonary artery in the lungs, such as a condition called pulmonary embolism.
  5. Pneumothorax, this occurs when air in the lung leaks into space between the chest wall and lungs.
  6. Fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema). There are numerous conditions that can trigger pulmonary edema. But mostly, it is associated with heart problems.
  7. An abnormal heart beats, such as cardiac arrhythmia.
  8. Panic attack (hyperventilation).
  9. shortness of breath also could be a warning sign of a heart attack, especially for people with cardiovascular diseases.

For chronic dyspnoea, it is commonly associated with the following conditions:

  1. If something goes awry with your heart (heart problems).
  2. Kidney disease and anemia.
  3. Bronchiectasis, a condition of distorted and scarred bronchial tubes that causes a build-up of phlegm. It also often leads to chronic coughing.
  4. Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis such as interstitial lung disease. Typically, these lung diseases are usually associated with scar tissue /inflammation in the lungs.
  5. COPD can cause chronic dyspnoea, too.
  6. Myasthenia gravis (muscular dystrophy). It can also lead to muscle weakness.
  7. Lung conditions associated with environmental factors (occupational lung diseases), such long-term exposure to asbestos.
  8. Allergic alveolitis, a kind of allergy that causes an allergic lung reaction. For instance, it can be triggered by certain dusts.
  9. Other causes may include feeling depressed or anxious. Even in some cases, lack of physical activity can also contribute.

What is belly fat?

Sometimes expanding waistline or gaining more abdominal fat is seen as consequence of getting older. For instances, it is common in post-menopausal women. It is also likely to occur in men over 50.

Age does have an effect in contributing weight gain (including for belly fat). In fact, you’re likely to lose more muscles and gain more fat as you get older.

However, this doesn’t mean that you cannot prevent it. There are lots of things to do to maintain your healthy weight and reduce your belly fat! The amount of calories you eat should be balance to the amount of calories you burn. This is still the key to help cope with the problem!

For many years we all have completely understood that obesity is bad for our overall health. But did you know that your waistline may be the key of the problem?!

Although gaining more pounds of extra weight, in general, can carry the risk of health problems, more fat in the belly is considered particularly more harmful. And it’s not only about subcutaneous fat, but also visceral fat of your belly!

Visceral fat is extra layer of padding that lies deep inside the abdomen. And for subcutaneous fat, it is extra fat in the belly that you can see since it is located just below the skin (see the following picture).


Subcutaneous fat is not easy to ignore since again it is visible. It is usually the main target when you’re expecting a flat abs.

But according to studies, visceral fat is far more dangerous since it may has more contribution in producing substances that impair the function of insulin, increase blood pressure, and negatively alter bad (LDL) & good (HDL) cholesterol levels. It also triggers the excess production of estrogen that may contribute in causing colorectal and breast cancers.

Belly fat can affect lungs, causing shortness of breath

In a study in 2009 published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, obese participants with more belly fat are likely to have poorer lung function.

It seems that waistline is also a component of metabolic syndrome. The larger size of your waistline, the greater chance of having high blood sugar, high blood pressure, too low level HDL (good cholesterol), and high triglycerides.

Regardless of your age, whether or not you are a smoker, and your BMI – your excess belly fat may have an effect to impair with your lung function.

Carrying extra pounds of weight, especially belly fat, can make your body work harder (including for your heart and lungs) – why?

Unfortunately, this issue is not fully known. There is still no clearly answer of how excess fat in the belly has an effect in causing bad breathing such as shortness of breath!

However there are some explanations. The following are some possible ways of how belly fat may contribute to cause shortness of breath:

  1. One of contributing factors may be due to the inflammation associated with fat tissue! Belly fat is most likely to cause more deposits of fats in the liver. And it is also quite possible to accumulate in the lungs.
  2. Another theory is the mechanical effect from abdominal obesity. If you have large belly, this is likely to restrict the lung’s diaphragm. And as a result, the lungs can be harder to expand when you take a breath.

There may be other ways of how excess belly fat can cause breathlessness or shortness of breath. Again, this issue is not fully understood yet!

Belly fat is also dangerous for people with normal weight

Excess abdominal fat is commonly associated with obesity. But nowadays, it is also quite common in people with normal weight.

Your belly can tell how active you are ‘physically’. Even though you have normal weight, it’s easy to gain more belly fat if you’re a sedentary individual.

According to a recent research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine on this November, more excess abdominal weight you gain is still dangerous even though you have normal weight. Interestingly, some people with more belly fat had greater risk of dying early than obese people did.

However in general, normal weight is still considered healthy choice. But this research suggests that it’s not only about BMI! Now you should also pay attention on your waistline!

So waistline does matter! Then what is the healthy waistline you should have?

There may be different cut-points, especially for different ethnic groups. But according to the American Heart Association, National Lung, Heart, and Blood Institute, waistline is considered abdominal obesity if it is greater than 40 inches (102 cm) for men & 35 inches (88 cm) for women.

Tips for coping

Fortunately, belly fat (including for visceral fat) also responds to the same ways of losing your overall weight. And still, regular exercise and healthy-balanced diet are the keys.


It’s commonly suggested to have at least 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week or 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity a week, recommended by the Department of Health and Human Services. Doing strength training twice a week is also recommended for best result.

Vigorous exercises include fast walking, running, or swimming. Moderate exercises include hiking, bicycling, brisk walking, and gardening.

Sit-ups often take attention when it comes to expecting flat-abs. But remember that sit-ups alone are not enough to remove your belly fat. However it’s worth a try to help build your stomach muscles.


Plant-based foods should be one of priorities in your diet. These include fresh fruits, veggies, and whole grains.

And when it comes to your dietary fat – it’s recommended to choose low-fat dairy products and lean source of protein. Saturated fats must be restricted. Take more unsaturated fats such as avocados, fish, nuts, vegetable oils or olive oils (these are good and healthy substitute for saturated fats).

But remember that all foods (including veggies, fruits, or other healthy foods) contain calories. So eat them in moderation, too!

There are also some super foods that can help burn belly fats more quickly – see more in this section!

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