Reviewed on 6/30/2022

What Is Hyperventilation?

Hyperventilation and hyperventilation syndrome involve an excess of breathing similar to panic attacks.
Hyperventilation and hyperventilation syndrome involves an excess of breathing similar to panic attacks.

Hyperventilation is breathing in excess of what the body needs. This is sometimes called over-breathing.

Rapid or deep breathing is sometimes seen in very serious conditions such as infection, bleeding, or heart attack. Hyperventilation syndrome is more specific and relates to an over-breathing pattern that happens under certain conditions. This over-breathing results in a group of symptoms.

Although hyperventilation syndrome may seem very similar to panic attacks, the two disorders are different. People with panic disorder often have emotional complaints (for example, fear of death or closed-in spaces) that accompany attacks. If a person has hyperventilation syndrome, however, he or she will have certain symptoms without these emotional complaints (although the person still may be anxious).

Hyperventilation Causes

The cause or causes of hyperventilation syndrome are unknown. Certain conditions or situations produce over-breathing in some people.

Hyperventilation Symptoms

  • Sudden and every day are the two forms of hyperventilation syndrome. In its everyday form, the over-breathing may be hard to detect. The sudden form comes on rapidly and has more intense symptoms. People with this syndrome may have stomach, chest, nervous system, and emotional complaints.
  • Hyperventilation syndrome may result in swallowing excessive air. This results in the following abdominal symptoms bloating, burping, passing excess gas (flatulence), pressure sensation in the abdomen, Also, anxiety with increased air movement through the mouth can cause a dry mouth feeling.
  • Chemical changes can happen with over-breathing. Hyperventilation causes the carbon dioxide level in the blood to decrease. This lower level of carbon dioxide reduces blood flow to the brain, which may result in the following nervous system and emotional symptoms like weakness, fainting, dizziness, confusion, agitation, a feeling of being outside yourself, feeling images that aren't there, and feeling as if you can't breathe.
  • Overbreathing can cause the calcium levels to drop in your blood, which may result in the following nervous system symptoms like numbness and tingling (usually in both arms or around the mouth), spasms, or cramps of the hands and feet, and muscle twitching.
  • Many different factors can cause chest symptoms with hyperventilation syndrome. Normally, breathing is relaxed. If a person over breathes, the lungs become overinflated. Without thinking about it, the person might use the chest muscles to expand the rib cage. This extra muscle work will feel like shortness of breath, and the person will have difficulty taking a deep breath. The chest muscles will become tired, just like the legs tire after a long run. The lowered carbon dioxide levels in the blood can cause squeezing of the airways, which then results in wheezing. Hyperventilation syndrome may cause the following chest symptoms like chest pains or tenderness, shortness of breath, and wheezing.

The doctor will make sure that the person isn't suffering a heart attack by considering:

  • Hyperventilation symptoms usually last longer (hours as opposed to minutes).
  • Hyperventilation symptoms usually happen in younger people.
  • Hyperventilation symptoms usually improve with exercise.
  • Hyperventilation pain does not improve with heart medication.
  • In very rare cases, people who hyperventilate can have low carbon dioxide blood levels that can cause a spasm of the blood vessels that supply the heart. If a person already has heart disease, this spasm may be enough to cause a heart attack.

Hyperventilation Diagnosis

  • The doctor will rapidly examine the patient, especially breathing and circulation. If the doctor does not find anything immediately life-threatening, the doctor will ask about medical history and do a physical exam.
  • Certain tests may be ordered to explore other causes of the patient's signs and symptoms. These tests are often ordered because the only way to confirm a person has hyperventilation syndrome is to eliminate other causes. The patient may have an IV started and may be hooked up to a monitor during the evaluation. The doctor may order these tests, for example, arterial blood samples, other blood tests, chest X-ray, ventilation/perfusion scan, chest CT scan, and electrocardiogram (ECG, EKG).
  • If the doctor suspects the patient may have a condition more serious than hyperventilation syndrome, the doctor may recommend that hospitalization for further tests and observation. Life-threatening conditions associated with rapid or deep breathing include heart problems, lung problems, nervous system problems, drug reactions and poisons, infections, pregnancy, and liver disorders.

Hyperventilation Home Remedies

If a person has signs and symptoms of hyperventilation syndrome, a visit to a hospital's emergency department will determine whether or not he or she is having other, more worrisome causes of these symptoms. Home care for hyperventilation syndrome is only for people who have been told by their doctors that they have hyperventilation syndrome.

  • If a person has been diagnosed with hyperventilation syndrome, the doctor may instruct the patient to briefly try certain breathing and relaxation exercises. This may work to stop an attack.
  • Breathing into a paper bag is no longer recommended.

Hyperventilation Treatment

Once the doctor is sure that the patient's diagnosis is hyperventilation syndrome and not something more serious, the doctor will arrange follow-up care with a psychiatrist or a primary care doctor.

  • These doctors will teach the patient about the syndrome and what techniques may help control the attacks.
  • Sometimes, usually after talking with a regular doctor, certain medications may be prescribed.
  • If the patient's condition worsens after visiting the emergency department, he or she should return for a recheck.

Hyperventilation Prognosis

  • With appropriate training, a person may use stress-reduction techniques, breathing exercises, and certain medications to reduce the number and severity of the hyperventilation attacks. In addition, therapy for any anxiety problems should help reduce the number of attacks and their severity.
  • Hyperventilation syndrome is an area of medicine under current study.
  • Hyperventilation research focuses on understanding the conditions that predispose some people to this syndrome as well as its relationship to related disorders.

When to Seek Medical Care for Hyperventilation

  • If a person is experiencing signs and symptoms of hyperventilation syndrome, he or she should seek urgent medical attention to test for serious causes of over-breathing.
  • The person should get urgent medical attention if he or she is experiencing signs and symptoms of hyperventilation syndrome because more serious causes of over-breathing might be present.
Reviewed on 6/30/2022