Information for physiotherapists and patients. For references, go to References and click on Hyperventilation

WHAT IS HYPERVENTILATION SYNDROME?

'Hyperventilation' means overbreathing, which may be taking too many breaths or breathing too deeply. 'Syndrome' means a collection of symptoms. Our breathing normally happens without us having to think about it. The number of breaths and size of breath is controlled by our 'breathing regulator' system. This system causes us to take a breath of air into our lungs so that oxygen can move into our bloodstream and be used by the different parts of our body. As the oxygen is used up, we produce carbon dioxide which is our 'exhaust gas'. This moves back to the lungs in the bloodstream, and as we breathe out, some of this carbon dioxide is breathed out into the air. However, we need to keep some carbon dioxide - it plays an important role in our blood. If we breathe faster or more deeply than our body needs, we may breathe out too much carbon dioxide. This can give us some funny feelings varying from quite mild symptoms in some people to quite severe symptoms in others. All of us at some time in our life will probably overbreathe and have some of the symptoms caused by this - this is nothing to worry about. However, a few people will go on to have Hyperventilation Syndrome, where the symptoms happen more often and help is needed to stop them.

HOW DO I KNOW IF I HAVE HYPERVENTILATION SYNDROME?

It is sometimes spotted by your doctor, although some people feel so unwell during an attack that they go to the casualty department.

WHAT ARETHE SYMPTOMS LIKELY TO BE?

The symptoms are quite variable and may include tingling fingers, tingling around the mouth, dizziness, fainting, chest pain, tiredness, disturbed vision, a sensation of not being able to get a deep enough breath, sighing and yawning. No two people will feel the same - the symptoms may be quite different.

WHAT CAUSES IT TO START?

Quite often there has been an event which has caused the first episode of overbreathing. This may be an emotional happening such as death of a loved one or family breakdown, or it may be a physical cause such as intense pain or an asthma attack. Sometimes it is not possible to identify the first event.

WHAT TESTS MIGHT BE DONE?

Sometimes a blood test is done, but normally the history and symptoms alone identify the problem. The doctor or physiotherapist will probably listen to your chest and may ask you to blow into a peak flow meter to check how well your lungs work.

WHAT TREATMENT CAN BE GIVEN?

A physiotherapist will work with you to help you to be more aware of your breathing and to teach you to breathe in a more normal way. You will probably be given breathing control exercises to practice at home.

WILL I GET COMPLETELY BETTER?

Most people do get better. However there is always a chance that you may have another attack if something triggers it. However, hopefully you will have learned how to cope and will be able to control it with the breathing exercises.

HOW LONG WILL I NEED TO HAVE PHYSIOTHERAPY?

This will be different for each patient. If may take many weeks for some to learn the breathing techniques and for their body to adjust to the higher (more normal) level of carbon dioxide. Your physiotherapist will want to be sure that you are much better and have learned how to cope if a relapse should occur.

Further details
www.http://physiohypervent.org/