Hyperventilation is rapid or deep breathing that can occur with anxiety or panic. It is also called overbreathing, and may leave you feeling breathless.
See also: Rapid shallow breathing
When you breathe, you breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. Excessive breathing creates low levels of carbon dioxide in your blood. This causes many of the symptoms of hyperventilation.
Feeling very anxious or having a panic attack are the usual reasons that you may hyperventilate. However, rapid breathing may be a symptom of a disease, such as:
Your doctor or nurse will determine the cause of your hyperventilation. Rapid breathing may be a medical emergency -- unless you have have had this before and have been reassured by your health care provider that it can be self treated.
Often, panic and hyperventilation become a vicious cycle. Panic leads to rapid breathing, and breathing rapidly can make you feel panicked.
If you frequently overbreathe, you may have hyperventilation syndrome that is triggered by emotions of stress, anxiety, depression, or anger. Occasional hyperventilation from panic is generally related to a specific fear or phobia, such as a fear of heights, dying, or closed-in spaces (claustrophobia).
If you have hyperventilation syndrome, you might not be aware you are breathing fast. However, you will be aware of having many of the other symptoms, including:
Your doctor or nurse will examine you and see if there are oter causes of your over-breathing.
If your doctor or nurse has said your hyperventilation is due to anxiety, stress, or panic, there are steps you can take at home. You, your friends, and family can learn techniques to stop it from happening and prevent future attacks.
If you start hyperventilating, the goal is to raise the carbon dioxide level in your blood, which will end most of your symptoms. There are several ways to do this:
Over the long term, there are several important steps to help you stop overbreathing:
If these methods alone are not preventing your overbreathing, your doctor may recommend a beta blocker medication.
Call your health care provider if:
Your doctor will perform a careful physical examination.
To get your medical history, your doctor will ask questions about your symptoms, such as:
The doctor will assess how rapidly you are breathing at the time of the visit. If you are not breathing quickly, the physician may try to induce hyperventilation by instructing you to breathe a certain way.
While you hyperventilate, the doctor will ask how you feel and watch how you breathe -- including what muscles you are using in your chest wall and surrounding areas.
Tests that may be performed include:
Rapid deep breathing; Breathing - rapid and deep; Overbreathing; Fast deep breathing; Respiratory rate - rapid and deep
Duffin J, Phillipson EA. Hypoventilation and hyperventilation syndromes. In: Mason RJ, Broaddus CV, Martin TR, et al. Murray & Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 78.
Winter AO, Purcell TB. Somatoform disorders. In: Marx JA, ed. Rosen’s Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2009:chap 111.
Updated by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
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