Shortness of Breath and Hyperventilation

Chest | Pulmonology | Shortness of Breath and Hyperventilation (Symptom)


Hyperventilation is rapid or deep breathing that can occur with anxiety or panic. It is also called overbreathing, and can leave a person feeling short of breath. Excessive breathing may cause dizziness, lightheadedness, weakness, difficulty breathing, a feeling of instability, muscle spasms in hands and feet, and a tingling sensation around the mouth and fingertips. All these symptoms are the result of abnormally low levels of carbon dioxide in the blood caused by hyperventilation.


Stress or anxiety are common causes of hyperventilation. This is also known as hyperventilation syndrome. 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 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

Treatment for hyperventilation is aimed at increasing carbon dioxide levels in the blood, usually by adjusting your breathing rate. In serious cases, medication may be required to treat hyperventilation. Psychological counseling has been shown to benefit patients with anxiety or panic disorders that lead to hyperventilation. ...