Hyperventilation is rapid and deep breathing. It is also called overbreathing, and it may leave you feeling breathless.
You breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. Excessive breathing creates a low level of carbon dioxide in your blood. This causes many of the symptoms of hyperventilation.
You may hyperventilate from an emotional cause such as during a panic attack. Or, it can be due to a medical problem, such as bleeding or infection.
Your health care provider will determine the cause of your hyperventilation. Rapid breathing may be a medical emergency and you need to get treated, unless you have had this before and your provider has told you that you can treat it on your own.
If you frequently overbreathe, you may have a medical problem called hyperventilation syndrome.
When you're overbreathing, you might not be aware you're breathing fast and deep. But you'll likely be aware of the other symptoms, including:
Emotional causes include:
Medical causes include:
Your provider will examine you for other causes of your overbreathing.
If your provider has said your hyperventilation is due to anxiety, stress, or panic, there are steps you can take at home. You, your friends, and family can learn techniques to stop it from happening and prevent future attacks.
If you start hyperventilating, the goal is to raise the carbon dioxide level in your blood. This will end most of your symptoms. Ways to do this include:
Over the long term, measures to help you stop overbreathing include:
If these methods alone don't prevent overbreathing, your provider may recommend medicine.
Call your provider if:
Your provider will perform a physical exam and ask about your symptoms.
Your breathing will also be checked. If you are not breathing quickly at the time, the provider may try to cause hyperventilation by telling you to breathe in a certain way. The provider will then watch how you breathe and check which muscles you're using to breathe.
Tests that may be ordered include:
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.