Skip to Content
Home > Health Information > Health Library > Hyperventilation
Hyperventilation is breathing that is deeper and more rapid than normal. It causes a decrease in the amount of a gas in the blood (called carbon dioxide, or CO2). This decrease may make you feel lightheaded, have a rapid heartbeat, and be short of breath. It also can lead to numbness or tingling in your hands or feet, anxiety, fainting, and sore chest muscles.
Some causes of sudden hyperventilation include anxiety, fever, some medicines, intense exercise, and emotional stress. Hyperventilation also can occur because of problems caused by asthma or emphysema or after a head injury. But it occurs most often in people who are nervous or tense, breathe shallowly, and have other medical conditions, such as lung diseases or panic disorder. Women experience hyperventilation more often than men. Most people who have problems with hyperventilation are 15 to 55 years old. Hyperventilation may occur when people travel to elevations over 6000 ft (2000 m). Symptoms can be similar to symptoms that are caused by another, more serious medical problem, such as a lung problem.
Acute (sudden) hyperventilation is usually triggered by acute stress, anxiety, or emotional upset. Chronic (recurring) hyperventilation may be an ongoing problem for people with other diseases, such as asthma, emphysema, or lung cancer.
Many women have problems with hyperventilation during pregnancy, but it usually goes away on its own after delivery.
In many cases, hyperventilation can be controlled by learning proper breathing techniques.
Symptoms of hyperventilation usually last 20 to 30 minutes and may include:
Other symptoms may occur less frequently, and you may not realize they are directly related to hyperventilation. These symptoms can include:
Hyperventilation is not a disease, but you may need to be checked by your doctor if you have repeated episodes of hyperventilation symptoms. If you have recurring symptoms, you might be diagnosed with a condition called hyperventilation syndrome (HVS).
Treatment for hyperventilation depends on the cause. Home treatment is usually all that is needed for mild hyperventilation symptoms. Medical treatment may be needed for hyperventilation symptoms that are moderate to severe, that last for long periods of time, that come back, or that interfere with your daily activities. Medical treatment usually includes reassurance, stress reduction measures, breathing lessons, or medicine.
Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.
Symptoms of difficulty breathing can range from mild to severe. For example:
Severe trouble breathing means:
Moderate trouble breathing means:
Mild trouble breathing means:
Symptoms of a heart attack may include:
The more of these symptoms you have, the more likely it is that you're having a heart attack. Chest pain or pressure is the most common symptom, but some people, especially women, may not notice it as much as other symptoms. You may not have chest pain at all but instead have shortness of breath, nausea, or a strange feeling in your chest or other areas.
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical care.
Based on your answers, you need emergency care.
Call911or other emergency services now.
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
After you call 911 , the operator may tell you to chew 1 adult-strength (325 mg) or 2 to 4 low-dose (81 mg) aspirin. Wait for an ambulance. Do not try to drive yourself.
Home treatment may help you control your breathing and stop hyperventilation. First, sit down and concentrate on your breathing.
Always try measures to control your breathing or belly-breathe first. If these techniques don't work and you don't have other health problems, you might try breathing in and out of a paper bag that covers your nose and mouth.
If hyperventilation continues for longer than 30 minutes, call your doctor immediately.
Do not use a paper bag if:
Follow these precautions when using the bag method:
Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home treatment:
You may be able to avoid hyperventilation:
To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.
You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the following questions:
While waiting for your appointment, it may be helpful to keep a diary of your symptoms( What is a PDF document? ).
Current as of:
June 26, 2019
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Current as of:
June 26, 2019
Medical Review:William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2019 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
Our interactive Decision Points guide you through making key health decisions by combining medical information with your personal information.
You'll find Decision Points to help you answer questions about:
Get started learning more about your health!
Our Interactive Tools can help you make smart decisions for a healthier life. You'll find personal calculators and tools for health and fitness, lifestyle checkups, and pregnancy.
Feeling under the weather?
Use our interactive symptom checker to evaluate your symptoms and determine appropriate action or treatment.
See important information from Billings Clinic on Non-discrimination and Interpreter Services.
Billings Clinic is proud to be an equal opportunity/affirmative action (EOE/AA) e-verify employer.