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Hyperventilation: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

Hyperventilation: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

You suffer from hyperventilation when you breathe deeper and more rapidly than normal. This decreases the amount of carbon dioxide in your blood. This can lead you to feel shortness of breath, lightheadedness, and rapid heartbeat.

Emotional stress, anxiety, some medicines, fever, and intense exercises can cause sudden hyperventilation. You may experience this condition due to an asthma attack, emphysema or head injury.

Most commonly, this condition is seen in people who breathe shallowly, have any health conditions, or are tense and nervous.

People who are at risk of developing this condition are individuals between 15 and 55 years of age. Women experience this condition more often compared to men.

You may suffer from acute hyperventilation or chronic (recurring) hyperventilation. Acute hyperventilation is usually caused due to acute stress or emotional upset. Chronic hyperventilation may be an ongoing issue for you if you have health conditions like lung cancer, asthma, or emphysema.

Many women experience this condition during their pregnancy, but it usually goes away after delivery.

Hyperventilation is a term most commonly used if you have rapid or fast deep breathing and over-breathing.

hyperventilation

Symptoms

You may experience hyperventilation when you have little carbon dioxide in your blood. In many cases, you may not be aware of it but sometimes you may experience symptoms related to it. You may experience the following symptoms when the CO2 levels in your blood reduce due to hyperventilation:

  • Numbness or tingling (paresthesia)
  • Lightheadedness
  • Shortness of breath or rapid breathing (tachypnea)
  • Belching
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Weakness (loss of strength)
  • Chest pain
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Dry mouth
  • Dizziness or vertigo
  • Palpitations

You may experience serious symptoms from this condition, and when you do, get medical help immediately. Some of the serious symptoms include:

  • Severe pain
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Fever
  • Uncontrollable bleeding
  • Chest pain
  • Muscle spasms

Ensure you get medical help immediately as over-breathing can be life-threatening.

Causes

You may have medical or emotional factors that can cause hyperventilation, such as:

Medical factors of hyperventilation

  • Ketoacidosis and similar medical conditions
  • Drug overdose
  • Infection such as pneumonia or sepsis
  • Pregnancy
  • Bleeding
  • Heart ailments
  • Lung diseases such as asthma, COPD, or pulmonary embolism
  • Stimulant medicines
  • Severe pain

Emotional factors

  • Panic attack
  • Anxiety and nervousness
  • Stress

Risk Factors

There are several factors that increase the risk of developing hyperventilation. However, you must know that not all people with these following factors will get over-breathing:

  • Family medical history of anxiety or panic attacks
  • Panic disorder such as phobia
  • Certain medications
  • Family history of anxiety or panic attacks
  • Stress

Diagnosis

When you experience the symptoms of hyperventilation, you must visit your doctor’s clinic immediately. Ensure you are not starting any medication or remedy without consulting your doctor.

In your doctor’s clinic, your doctor will perform a physical examination and ask questions related to your health, symptoms you experience and overall lifestyle.

Your doctor may also check your breathing. If your doctor does not see the symptoms of over-breathing, your doctor might try causing over-breathing by telling you to breathe in a certain way. Your doctor will then watch how you breathe and check which muscles you are using to breathe.

To rule out this condition, your doctor may recommend the following tests:

  • ECG to check your heart
  • Ventilation/perfusion scan to check the blood flow to your heart muscles
  • X-rays of the chest
  • Chest CT scan
  • Blood tests to check the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood

Treatment

Your doctor may recommend treatment depending on your hyperventilation test results.

They may plan a treatment option based on your condition. Your doctor may recommend:

  • Stress recognition
  • Physical coping strategies
  • Breathing retraining
  • Postural and upper chest musculoskeletal balancing
  • Medications like anti-anxiolytics/muscle relaxants if indicated
  • A graduated fitness regimen/lifestyle appraisal
  • Counselling for anxiety and depression if required
  • Upper respiratory health assessment
  • Sleep hygiene

You may take approximately six to eight weeks to change an established pattern from dysfunctional breathing, back to normal.

Depending on your condition, your doctor may recommend breathing exercises such as pursed-lip breathing. In this, you will be asked to hold your breath for short periods. This exercise can help slow down your breathing.

Your doctor may suggest acupuncture to effectively treat hyperventilation syndrome. In acupuncture, the expert inserts thin needles in certain areas of your body, commonly called as points. This can help reduce anxiety and severity of over-breathing.

Ensure you follow the treatment suggested by your doctor. In case you feel the treatment is not helping in resolving the condition, contact your doctor immediately.

Lifestyle Changes

Your doctor may suggest a few lifestyle changes for hyperventilation such as:

  • Consume a healthy diet that contains essential nutrients and minerals.
  • Lower the intake of caffeinated beverages like tea, coffee and soda. Also, limit eating chocolates.
  • To relieve anxiety, talk to your friends, family or anyone with whom you are comfortable sharing your thoughts. You can also maintain a journal or personal diary and note down all your thoughts.
  • Take up stress management activities to manage your stress and tension. Try cycling, working out, dance, play a sport, etc to manage stress.
  • Take up regular aerobic exercise to force yourself to take full breaths and help reduce anxiety.
  • Learn diaphragmatic breathing or belly-breathing techniques and practice when you are not over-breathing.
  • Breathe through your nose. It is difficult to over breathe when your mouth is closed. It is because you can’t pass excess air through your nose.
  • You should wear loose clothes. Tight clothes can make it difficult to breathe and cause upper-chest breathing.
  • Practice meditation for healthy thinking and avoid negative thoughts.
  • Sleep healthily. Ensure you get enough sleep as taking enough rest helps reduce daytime anxiety.

Remember, these tips and techniques may help you to slow down your fast breathing and bring them back to normal. If these tips and techniques do not help you, inform your doctor immediately.

It is important that you consult your doctor before using these above-mentioned techniques and tips to treat over-breathing.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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Written by Nikita Bhalla Updated 4 weeks ago
Fact Checked by Bianchi Mendoza, R.N.