What causes hyperventilation? 12 possible conditions

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What Is Hyperventilation?

Hyperventilation is a condition in which you suddenly start to breathe very quickly. Healthy breathing occurs with a healthy balance between breathing in oxygen and breathing out carbon dioxide. While hyperventilating, you upset this balance by exhaling more than you inhale. This causes a rapid reduction in carbon dioxide in the body.

Low carbon dioxide levels eventually lead to narrowing of the blood vessels that supply blood to the brain. This reduction in blood supply to the brain leads to symptoms like lightheadedness and tingling in the fingers. Severe hyperventilation can lead to loss of consciousness.

For some people, hyperventilation is rare, and only occurs as an occasional, panicked response to fear, stress, or a phobia. For others, this condition occurs regularly as a typical response to emotional states, such as depression, anxiety, or anger. When hyperventilation is a frequent occurrence, this is known as hyperventilation syndrome.

Hyperventilation is also known as:

  • rapid (or fast) deep breathing
  • over breathing
  • respiratory rate (or breathing)—rapid and deep

Common Causes of Hyperventilation

There are many factors that can lead to hyperventilation. Most commonly, this condition results from anxiety, panic, nervousness, or stress. It often takes the form of a panic attack.

Other causes include:

  • bleeding
  • the use of stimulants
  • drug overdose (aspirin overdose, for example)
  • severe pain
  • pregnancy
  • an infection in the lungs
  • lung diseases, such as asthma or COPD
  • conditions of the heart, such as a heart attack

When to Seek Treatment for Hyperventilation

Hyperventilation can be a serious issue. You should seek treatment for hyperventilation when the following symptoms occur:

  • rapid, deep breathing for the first time
  • hyperventilation that gets worse, even after trying home-care options
  • pain
  • fever
  • bleeding

Treating Hyperventilation

In acute cases of hyperventilation, it is important to try to stay calm. Having someone with you to coach you through the episode may be helpful. The goal of treatment during an episode is to increase carbon dioxide levels in your body and work to slow your breathing rate.

To help treat acute hyperventilation, you can:

  • breathe through pursed lips
  • breathe into a paper bag or cupped hands
  • attempt to breathe into your belly (diaphragm) rather than your chest
  • cover your mouth and try alternative nostril breathing

Alternative nostril breathing involves covering your mouth and alternating breathing through each nostril. For instance, with mouth covered, close the right nostril and breathe in through the left. Then alternate by closing the left nostril and breathing in through the right. Repeat this pattern until breathing has returned to normal.

If you have hyperventilation syndrome, you will want to figure out what is causing it. If you suffer from anxiety or stress, you may want to see a psychologist to help you understand and treat your condition. Learning stress reduction and breathing techniques will help to control your condition.

Acupuncture may also be an effective treatment for hyperventilation syndrome (Gibson, et al., 2007). Acupuncture is an alternative treatment based on ancient Chinese medicine. It involves placing thin needles into various areas of the body to promote healing. The needles may improve blood circulation due to their ability to stimulate the nerves, muscles, and body tissues (Mayo).

Preventing Hyperventilation

To prevent hyperventilation, it is helpful to learn breathing and relaxation techniques, such as:

  • meditation
  • alternate nostril breathing, deep belly breathing, and full body breathing
  • mind/body exercises, such as tai chi, yoga, or qi gong

Exercising regularly (walking, running, bicycling, etc.) can also help to prevent hyperventilation.

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See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.

1

Respiratory Alkalosis

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Respiratory alkalosis is a condition that changes the balance of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the blood. It occurs when carbon dioxide levels drop too low. Hyperventilation is typically the underlying cause.

Read more »

2

Diabetic Ketoacidosis

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) is a serious complication that stems from diabetes. If you don't have enough insulin to help your body process sugars (glucose), your body will start burning fat to fuel itself. As a result...

Read more »

3

Heart Failure

Right-side heart failure occurs when the right ventricle can't properly pump blood to your lungs to collect oxygen. Excessive fatigue, shortness of breath and abdominal bloating are signs.

Read more »

4

Anxiety

What is anxiety? Anxiety often manifests itself as an apprehension about daily life. Learn the basics with this overview of the types of anxiety disorders.

Read more »

5

Stress And Anxiety

Stress can be triggered by an event that makes you feel frustrated or nervous, such as moving, death, starting a new job, and having a baby. Long-term stress can produce both physical and psychological symptoms.

Read more »

6

Panic Disorder

Panic disorder occurs when you live in fear of having a panic attack. You are having a panic attack when you feel sudden, overwhelming terror that has no obvious cause. You may experience physical symptoms such as ...

Read more »

7

Pulmonary Embolism

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

A pulmonary embolism is a blood clot that affects blood flow to the lungs. It can damage part of the lung due to restricted blood flow, decrease blood oxygen. The most common symptom is shortness of breath.

Read more »

8

Heat Emergencies

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Heat emergencies are health crises caused by exposure to hot weather and sun. Heat emergencies have three stages: heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke. All three stages are serious.

Read more »

9

Pregnancy

Bleeding or spotting, increased need to urinate, tender breasts, fatigue, nausea, and missed period are signs of pregnancy.

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10

Sepsis

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

One life-threatening complication of infection is sepsis, which often occurs in people who are elderly or have weak immune systems. Patches of discolored skin is a symptom of severe sepsis.

Read more »

11

Pneumonia

Pneumonia is an infection in one or both lungs. The infection may be caused by fungi, bacteria, or viruses. Pneumonia causes inflammation in your lung's air sacs, also referred to as alveoli. The alveoli fill with flui...

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12

Cystic Fibrosis

Cystic fibrosis is a recessive genetic disorder that can lead to serious complications or even put your life at risk. It may cause severe problems in the lungs, pancreas, liver, and intestine. It is an inherite...

Read more »

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.
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