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Rapid deep breathing (hyperventilation)
Hyperventilation is rapid or deep breathing, usually caused by anxiety or panic. This overbreathing, as it is sometimes called, actually leaves you feeling breathless.
When you breathe, you inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. Excessive breathing leads to low levels of carbon dioxide in your blood, which causes many of the symptoms that you may feel if you hyperventilate.
Feeling very anxious or having a panic attack are the usual reasons that you may hyperventilate. However, rapid breathing may be a symptom of an underlying disease, such as a heart or lung disorder, bleeding, or an infection. (See rapid shallow breathing .)
Your doctor will determine the cause of your hyperventilation. Rapid breathing is considered a medical emergency -- unless you have experienced this before and have been reassured by your doctor that your hypreventilation can be self treated. (See below.).
Often, panic and hyperventilation become a vicious cycle -- panic leads to rapid breathing while breathing rapidly can make you feel panicked.
If you frequently overbreathe (sometimes referred to as hyperventilation syndrome), this may be triggered by ongoing emotions of stress, anxiety, depression, or anger. However, 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 -- that is, if you regularly hyperventilate -- you might not be aware of it. But you will be aware of having many of the associated symptoms, including dizziness or lightheadedness, shortness of breath, belching, bloating, dry mouth, weakness, confusion, sleep disturbances, numbness and tingling in your arms or around your mouth, muscle spasms in hands and feet, chest pain, and palpitations.
Assuming that a more serious, underlying cause of hyperventilation has been eliminated and your doctor has explained that you hyperventilate from anxiety, stress, or panic, there are steps you can take at home. You, your friends, and family can learn techniques to stop you from hyperventilating when it happens and to prevent future attacks.
If you start hyperventilating, the goal is to raise the carbon dioxide level in your blood, which will put an end to most of your symptoms. There are several ways to do this:
Over the long term, there are several important steps to follow to try to eliminate your tendency to overbreathe:
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 obtain your medical history, your doctor will ask questions about your symptoms like:
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 breath 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:
Update Date: 4/14/2003Jacqueline A. Hart, M.D. Department of Internal Medicine, Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Boston, MA and Senior Medical Editor, A.D.A.M., Inc.
Last updated: Tue, 06 Jan 2009 00:20:03 GMT