What is hyperventilation?

Hyperventilation, or overbreathing, is a condition in which you breathe too quickly or deeply. Usually, hyperventilation occurs with anxiety. Overbreathing can cause imbalances in the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood. These imbalances can make you feel breathless, dizzy, light-headed, confused or weak.

Breathing Problems Spotlight

Hyperventilation is most often caused by stress, anxiety or panic. It may also result from medical conditions, such as asthma, bleeding, a pulmonary (lung) condition, a cardiac (heart) condition, diabetic ketoacidosis (life-threatening complication of diabetes), or an infection. The side effects of certain drugs or medications can also trigger hyperventilation. Along with rapid breathing, other symptoms of hyperventilation may include abdominal bloating, chest pain, difficulty sleeping, dry mouth, muscle spasms, numbness, or tingling.

Hyperventilation can happen to anyone. Usually, adults breathe at eight to 16 breaths per minute. A breathing rate exceeding 16 breaths per minute is characteristic of either hyperventilation or tachypnea (rapid shallow breathing). While tachypnea and hyperventilation are sometimes considered to be the same, hyperventilation is usually related to stress or anxiety.

Treatment for hyperventilation is aimed at increasing carbon dioxide levels in the blood, usually by adjusting your breathing rate. Seeking reassurance from nearby people or reducing stress may help you cope with anxiety or panic. You can also increase carbon dioxide levels and decrease your oxygen levels by pursing your lips or breathing through a single nostril. Long-term care for hyperventilation includes psychiatric help, breathing exercises, relaxation techniques, and physical exercise. In serious cases, medication may be prescribed to treat hyperventilation.

Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if this is your first experience of hyperventilation, or if you have a fever, bleeding, severe pain, chest pain, or shortness of breath with hyperventilation.

Seek prompt medical care if you have hyperventilation that is persistent or causes you concern.


What are the symptoms of hyperventilation?

Symptoms of hyperventilation are related to having too little carbon dioxide in the blood. This interferes with the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your body. Having an improper balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide can lead to many generalized symptoms, including weakness, dizziness, light-headedness or confusion.... Read more about hyperventilationsymptoms


What causes hyperventilation?

Generally, hyperventilation occurs due to stress, anxiety or panic. It may also be related to a pulmonary (lung) condition or cardiac (heart) condition, blood loss, pain, or side effects from certain medications.... Read more about hyperventilationcauses


How is hyperventilation treated?

Hyperventilation is treated by increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the blood. This can usually be accomplished by changing breathing patterns. In serious cases, medication may be required to treat hyperventilation. Psychological counseling has been shown to benefit patients with anxiety or panic disorders that lead to hyperventilation.... Read more about hyperventilationtreatments

Medical Reviewer: All content has been reviewed by board-certified physicians under the direction of Rich Klasco, M.D., FACEP. Last Annual Review Date: May 2, 2011 Copyright: © Copyright 2011 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

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