Home > Health Library > Hyperventilation
Hyperventilation is breathing that is deeper
and more rapid than normal. It causes a decrease in the amount of a gas in the
blood (called carbon dioxide, or CO2). This decrease may make you feel
lightheaded, have a rapid heartbeat, and be short of breath. It also can lead
to numbness or tingling in your hands or feet,
anxiety, fainting, and sore chest muscles.
Some causes of sudden hyperventilation include anxiety, fever, some
medicines, intense exercise, and emotional
stress. Hyperventilation also can occur because of
problems caused by asthma or emphysema or after a head injury. But it occurs
most often in people who are nervous or tense, breathe shallowly, and have
other medical conditions, such as lung diseases or
panic disorder. Women experience hyperventilation more
often than men. Most people who have problems with hyperventilation are 15 to 55 years old. Hyperventilation may occur when people travel to
elevations over 6000 ft (2000 m). Symptoms can be similar to symptoms that are caused by another,
more serious medical problem, such as a lung problem.
hyperventilation is usually triggered by acute stress, anxiety, or emotional
upset. Chronic (recurring) hyperventilation may be an ongoing problem for
people with other diseases, such as asthma, emphysema, or lung cancer.
Many women have problems with hyperventilation during pregnancy, but it
usually goes away on its own after delivery.
In many cases,
hyperventilation can be controlled by learning proper breathing
hyperventilation usually last 20 to 30 minutes and may include:
Other symptoms may occur less frequently, and you may not
realize they are directly related to hyperventilation. These symptoms can
Hyperventilation is not a disease, but you may need to be
checked by your doctor if you have repeated episodes of hyperventilation
symptoms. If you have recurring symptoms, you might be diagnosed with a
condition called hyperventilation syndrome (HVS).
hyperventilation depends on the cause. Home treatment is usually all that is
needed for mild hyperventilation symptoms. Medical treatment may be needed for
hyperventilation symptoms that are moderate to severe, that last for long
periods of time, that come back, or that
interfere with your daily activities. Medical
treatment usually includes reassurance, stress reduction measures, breathing
lessons, or medicine.
Check your symptoms to decide
if and when you should see a doctor.
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
Symptoms of a heart attack may
The more of these symptoms you have, the more likely it is that
you're having a heart attack. Chest pain or pressure is the most common
symptom, but some people, especially women, may not notice it as much as other
symptoms. You may not have chest pain at all but instead have shortness of breath, nausea, numbness,
tingling, or a strange feeling in your chest or other areas.
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The
problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Based on your answers, you need
Call911or other emergency services now.
After you call
911 , the operator may tell you to chew 1 adult-strength (325 mg) or 2
to 4 low-dose (81 mg) aspirin. Wait for an ambulance. Do not try to drive yourself.
Based on your answers, you need
Symptoms of difficulty breathing can range from mild to severe. For example:
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be
able to take care of this problem at home.
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind
of care you may need. These include:
Severe trouble breathing means:
Moderate trouble breathing means:
Mild trouble breathing means:
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical
Home treatment may help you control
your breathing and stop
hyperventilation. First, sit down and concentrate on
Always try measures to control your breathing or
belly-breathe first. If these techniques don't work and you don't have other
health problems, you might try breathing in and out of a paper bag that covers
your nose and mouth.
If hyperventilation continues for longer than 30 minutes,
call your doctor immediately.
Do not use a paper bag if:
Follow these precautions when using
the bag method:
Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home
You may be able to avoid
To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.
You can help your
doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the
While waiting for your appointment, it may be helpful to keep
diary of your symptomsdiary of your symptoms(What is a PDF document?).
September 19, 2012
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & David Messenger, MD
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.
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