Hyperventilation syndrome.

What is it?

It’s the name given to a collection of physical and emotional symptoms that causes over-breathing when the body does not need it. It can either be chronic which means it happens all the time or it can be acute which means it comes in attacks then goes away again.

Recurrent hyperventilation can occur at times of stress when your breathing rate increases. It’s common for feelings of anxiety and physical symptoms such as breathlessness or palpitations to occur when hyperventilation strikes, which can make it frightening or uncomfortable.

Chronic hyperventilation can result in a variety of symptoms that may be intermittent, or continuous. Even minor stresses can trigger these changes.

The science bit

Hyperventilation can be a feature of some breathing pattern disorders and it is a result of someone breathing in excess of their body’s requirements, in other words, more than they need to. This causes a physiological reaction.

The normal breathing process is simple: when we breathe in, we breathe in oxygen. When we breathe out, we breathe out carbon dioxide. The body is very good at keeping the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in our body balanced, but in those with breathing pattern disorders, it is the level of carbon dioxide within the body that can be affected. This upsets the normal balance and brings with it a number of different unpleasant symptoms such as:

  • breathlessness
  • palpitations
  • weakness
  • fainting
  • dizziness
  • confusion
  • anxiety
  • tingling in fingers or around mouth
  • panic as you feel like you can’t catch your breath

Whilst these symptoms aren’t life threatening they can be debilitating and scary, especially if you find it’s happening on a regular basis

What can you do?

Seeing a  respiratory physiotherapist can make a huge difference in helping you to correct your breathing pattern. Treatment mimics what we covered in our breathing pattern disorder blog however there may be some additional things your physiotherapist might want to focus on. Your physiotherapist will assess your current breathing pattern and help identify the factors that might contribute to the condition in your specific case. Your physiotherapist will be able to pick up whether they think you might have hyperventilation syndrome and will be able to address your breathing pattern to help reestablish a normal pa ttern to balance your carbon dioxide levels. ​ 

It’s important to bear in mind that there’s no quick fix to hyperventilation syndrome, and we always stress that you must adhere regularly to the advice given to gain maximum benefit. You’ll be given a clear plan to follow at home and offered a regular review to help keep you on track.

As part of the process we’ll talk about your long term goals ie what you’d like to achieve that you’re struggling to do now. Whether it’s simply emptying the dishwasher, or working towards running a half marathon, we’ll help you get there.