Hyperventilation – A Serious Condition

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panic attackToday we will know about a condition called hyperventilation. It is apparently an ordinary-looking condition but can cause serious consequences. Hyperventilation means to breathe more rapidly and deeper than normal. On the face of it, it may seem nothing very dangerous. But it is. How? Let’s see.

What Happens in Hyperventilation?

During breathing, we take in oxygen and give out carbon dioxide. During hyperventilation, you over-breathe which leaves you breathless. This excessively removes carbon dioxide from the blood which leads to reduced pressure of carbon dioxide in the blood, which causes a condition named respiratory alkalosis in which the blood becomes more alkaline. Alkalosis constricts the blood vessels supplying blood to the brain and thus reduced blood supply to the brain further shows symptoms like:

  • Dizziness and lightheadedness
  • Tingling and numbness in arms and fingertips and around the mouth
  • Confusion
  • Increased palpitation
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Weakness
  • Bloating and belching

Severe hyperventilation can also give rise to loss of consciousness.

What Causes Hyperventilation?

Scientists are of opinion that hyperventilation is rather a consequence than a cause of some diseases, and treatment will change as per what is causing it. Let’s look at some such causes.

Anxiety or Panic Disorder – Anxiety, or its severe form called panic disorder, is perhaps the commonest cause of hyperventilation. It is also called sudden or acute hyperventilation. They actually form a vicious cycle, i.e. anxiety leads to hyperventilation and the rapid breathing can make you panic. Anxiety is also associated with increased heart rate, perspiration, trembling and dizziness. An urge of frequent urination also may be felt or there may be a problem in swallowing. Loose stools and dry mouth are also common in anxiety and panic.

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Treatment may include psychotherapy, exposure therapy (where you deal with your feats in a controlled environment), cognitive-behavioral therapy (where you are trained to recognize and challenge the pattern of negative thinking which causes panic and anxiousness) and medications like anti-depressants and benzodiazepines, combined with self help and behavioral therapies.

Heart Conditions – Heart failure wherein your heart is unable to pump out oxygen-loaded blood can give rise to hyperventilation. Heart failure can take place if the high blood pressure is not controlled or in case of coronary artery disease in which blood vessels supplying blood to the heart constrict. When fluid is accumulated in lungs, gastrointestinal tract, liver and extremities due to heart failure, it is called congestive heart failure. Arrhythmias, heart attack and some infections which involve heart muscles can cause heart failure too.

Treatments include medicines which treat symptoms and prevent worsening of the disease, devices like pacemaker, surgeries like angioplasty, coronary bypass surgery, left ventricular assist device (LVAD) and intra-aortic balloon pump (IABP), etc. The last two surgeries are recommended for end stage heart failure.

Other Causes

So also, lung diseases like asthma, COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), pulmonary embolus and pneumonia, ketoacidosis, etc too are responsible for hyperventilation. Stress, depression, anxiety, anger, bleeding, pregnancy, severe pain, drug overdose, etc may also cause it.

Home Treatment

The commonest causes of hyperventilation are stress, anger, panic and depression, and you can overcome them by these breathing techniques:

  • Breathe once in every 5 seconds or slow enough until you stop over-breathing gradually
  • Fold your lips like you whistle and breathe
  • Place one of your hands on your chest and the other on your belly. Take a deep breath so as to make your belly thrust your hand out. Breathe out slowly letting the air out of your belly with your hands. Repeat 5-10 times.

These techniques allow more carbon dioxide to circulate in your blood. In case of hyperventilation prolonged for half an hour, you should seek medical help. In case of your first hyperventilation too you should seek medical help, and also in case of fever, pain and bleeding.

Russian researchers suggest many treatments for hyperventilation like psychotherapy, remedial gymnastics, pharmacotherapy and rectification of respiratory disorders. Respiratory disorders are corrected through biofeedback mechanism, persistent respiration or carbon dioxide inhalation.

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