The objectives of this study were to investigate the cause of dyspnoea in a sample of elderly individuals and to assess the diagnostic yield of a three-step examination algorithm for the evaluation of dyspnoea paired with a cost analysis. A total of 152 subjects were examined. A predefined diagnostic approach in three steps was carried out to find the cause of dyspnoea. Step 1 included lung spirometry and ECG; step 2 included lung diffusion capacity, echocardiography, haemoglobin and thyroid function; and step 3 included cardiac magnetic resonance imaging, chest radiography and exercise test. Of 129 subjects with dyspnoea, 68 (53%) had signs of lung disease, 27 (21%) had heart disease, a total of 43 (33%) were obese, 20 (16%) were obese without other causes of dyspnoea and five (4%) had general physical deconditioning. Twelve per cent had none of the above-mentioned potential causes of dyspnoea. Steps 1, 1 + 2 and 1 + 2 + 3 revealed a cause of dyspnoea in 39%, 63%, and 73% of subjects respectively. The cost per diagnosed case at steps 2 and 3 was twice and 3.5 times the cost per diagnosed case at step 1. In this sample of elderly subjects, a potential cause of dyspnoea was identified in most cases, the most frequent being lung disease followed by heart disease and obesity. These data shed light on the diagnostic yield that can be expected from a relatively simple diagnostic approach, including the most frequent recommended initial screening tests. As expected, the incremental nature of this algorithm translated into incremental costs per diagnosis achieved.