Hyperventilation or Abnormally Rapid Breathing

Chest | Pulmonology | Hyperventilation or Abnormally Rapid Breathing (Symptom)


Hyperventilation or over breathing is the state of breathing faster or deeper than normal, causing excessive expulsion of circulating carbon dioxide.

Hyperventilation causes an abnormal loss of carbon dioxide from the blood, which can lead to an increase in blood alkalinity. Symptoms include numbness or tingling in the hands, feet and lips, light headedness, dizziness, headache, chest pain, flexor spasm of hands and feet, slurred speech, nervous laughter, and sometimes fainting, particularly when accompanied by the Valsalva manoeuvre.


Abnormally deep or rapid breathing that is usually caused by anxiety or stress. Hyperventilation may also occur as a result of uncontrolled diabetes mellitus, oxygen deficiency, kidney failure, and some lung disorders.

Hyperventilation can also be brought about voluntarily, by taking many deep breaths in rapid succession. Hyperventilation can also occur as a consequence of various lung diseases, head injury, or stroke (central neurogenic hyperventilation, apneustic respirations, ataxic respiration, Cheyne-Stokes respirations or Biots respiration) and various lifestyle causes. In the case of metabolic acidosis, the body uses hyperventilation as a compensatory mechanism to decrease acidity of the blood. In the setting of diabetic ketoacidosis, this is known as Kussmaul breathing - characterized by long, deep breaths.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Breathing into a paper bag may help to reduce the symptoms in people with anxiety. The first step that should be taken is to treat the underlying cause. If hypoxia is present supplemental oxygen may be useful. If it is due to anxiety as the cause of hyperventilation syndrome, benzodiazepines may be useful.

The opposite of hyperventilation is termed hypoventilation (under ventilation).