Understanding Hyperventilation Syndrome

When you breathe, you get oxygen from the air you breathe in (inhale). You then let out carbon dioxide with the air you breathe out (exhale). Hyperventilation syndrome is a pattern of breathing where you breathe more quickly and deeply than normal. If it goes on for some time, it can cause the carbon dioxide level in the blood to get too low. This can lead to concerning symptoms all over the body.

What causes hyperventilation syndrome?

Hyperventilation syndrome may be caused from things such as:

  • Anxiety or panic (most common)

  • Pregnancy

  • Bleeding

  • Infection

  • Certain heart and lung problems

Symptoms of hyperventilation syndrome

You may have:

  • Fast or deep breathing

  • Shortness of breath or the feeling that you can’t get enough air

  • Anxiety, fear, panic, or strong feeling of dread or doom

  • Dizziness

  • Chest pain or squeezing in the chest

  • Fast, pounding, or skipping heartbeat

  • Sweating

  • Numbness or tingling around the mouth and in the fingers

  • Muscle cramps in the hands or feet

Treatment for hyperventilation syndrome

Treatment is focused on getting your breathing rate and the carbon dioxide level in your blood back to normal. If you are being treated in a hospital or healthcare provider’s office, the following or more may be done:

  • A healthcare provider may check the level of oxygen in your blood with a pulse oximeter.

  • A healthcare provider will talk with you and help you to stay calm.

  • You may be asked to try different breathing exercises, such as pursed-lip breathing. This helps slow down your breathing. You may also be asked to hold your breath for short periods.

  • You may also be given medicine to help you relax.

How can hyperventilation syndrome be prevented?

To help prevent episodes in the future, you may be told to try:

  • Breathing exercises

  • Relaxation methods such as meditation or progressive muscle relaxation

  • Regular exercise

  • Counseling or medicines to help with an anxiety or panic disorder

Possible complications of hyperventilation syndrome

If the level of carbon dioxide becomes very low, this is called hypocapnia. It can upset the acid-base balance in the blood. It can cause problems such as fainting and seizures.

Other possible complications of this syndrome will vary based on the cause.

When to call your healthcare provider

Call your healthcare provider right away if you have any of these:

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed

  • Symptoms that don’t get better with treatment, occur more often, or get worse

  • New symptoms