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Symptoms and Signs of Hyperventilation Syndrome Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

Doctor's Notes on Hyperventilation Syndrome Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

Hyperventilation is a medical term that refers to overbreathing. In this case, ventilation through the lungs exceeds the metabolic demand on the body. Hyperventilation is normal after strenuous exercise. Many cases of acute, or sudden, hyperventilation come on when experiencing panic, anxiety, or emotional condition. Hyperventilation, can also be caused by a range of medical conditions, including heart attack, anemia, congestive heart failure, fever, sepsis, stroke, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), among others. 

Symptoms and signs of hyperventilation include dizziness and lightheadedness. Other associated symptoms can include a sense of unsteadiness, chest pain or discomfort, rapid heart rate, and a tingling sensation around the mouth and in the fingertips or toes. It is also common to experience shortness of breath, or the feeling that you cannot take in enough air.

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 3/25/2019

Hyperventilation Syndrome Symptoms, Causes, Treatment Symptoms

Sudden and everyday are the two forms of hyperventilation syndrome. In its everyday form, the overbreathing may be hard to detect. The sudden form comes on rapidly and has more intense symptoms. People with this syndrome may have stomach, chest, nervous system, and emotional complaints.

Hyperventilation syndrome may result in swallowing excessive air. This results in the following abdominal symptoms like bloating, burping, passing excess gas (flatulance), pressure sensation in the abdomen, Also, anxiety with increased air movement through the mouth can cause a dry mouth feeling.

Chemical changes can happen with overbreathing. Hyperventilation causes the carbon dioxide level in the blood to decrease. This lower level of carbon dioxide reduces blood flow to the brain, which may result in the following nervous system and emotional symptoms like weakness, fainting, dizziness, confusion, agitation, a feeling of being outside yourself, feeing images that aren't there and feeling as if you can't breathe.

Overbreathing can cause the calcium levels to drop in your blood, which may result in the following nervous system symptoms like numbness and tingling (usually in both arms or around the mouth), spasms or cramps of the hands and feet, and muscle twitching.

Many different factors can cause chest symptoms with hyperventilation syndrome. Normally, breathing is relaxed. If a person over breathes, the lungs become overinflated. Without thinking about it, the person might use the chest muscles to expand the rib cage. This extra muscle work will feel like shortness of breath, and the person will have difficulty taking a deep breath. The chest muscles will become tired, just like the legs tire after a long run. The lowered carbon dioxide levels in the blood can cause squeezing of the airways, which then results in wheezing. Hyperventilation syndrome may cause the following chest symptoms like chest pains or tenderness, shortness of breath, and wheezing.

The doctor will make sure that the person isn't suffering a heart attack by considering:

  • Hyperventilation symptoms usually last longer (hours as opposed to minutes).
  • Hyperventilation symptoms usually happen in younger people.
  • Hyperventilation symptoms usually improve with exercise.
  • Hyperventilation pain does not improve with heart medication.
  • In very rare cases, people who hyperventilate can have low carbon dioxide blood levels that can cause a spasm of the blood vessels that supply the heart. If a person already has heart disease, this spasm may be enough to cause a heart attack.

Hyperventilation Syndrome Symptoms, Causes, Treatment Causes

The cause or causes of hyperventilation syndrome are unknown. Certain conditions or situations produce overbreathing in some people.

Weird Body Quirks in Pictures Brain Freezes, Hiccupping, & More Slideshow

Weird Body Quirks in Pictures Brain Freezes, Hiccupping, & More Slideshow

Oh no, not again! Another frozen treat, another brain freeze. “Ice cream headaches” happen when something cold touches nerves in the roof of the mouth, triggering blood vessels in the front of your head to swell. This rapid swelling causes the familiar, jabbing pain of a brain freeze. An easy solution? Try eating ice cream or other cold foods more slowly to avoid getting a headache.


Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.