Hyperventilation, which refers to rapid breathing, is often the contributing factor behind respiratory alkalosis (low levels of carbon dioxide in blood). The following HealthHearty write-up provides information on this condition.
During hyperventilation or excessive breathing, the respiratory rate of breathing out carbon dioxide from the blood changes. Hyperventilation mostly occurs when people are affected by extreme anxiety, panic attacks, asthma attacks, stress, etc. When a person is undergoing hyperventilation, there is decrease in carbon dioxide partial pressure (PaCO2). The reduced level of carbon dioxide in blood is medically referred to as hypocapnia. Under normal conditions, PaCO2 is about 40 ± 4 mmHg. When the body expels more carbon dioxide than required, it leads to respiratory alkalosis.
Hyperventilation and Respiratory Alkalosis
Under normal conditions, one breaths in oxygen and exhales carbon dioxide. Hyperventilation is a condition that occurs when lungs breathe in more oxygen than needed, due to deep or rapid breathing. Hyperventilation can occur due to a lung infection, bleeding, heart attack, or panic attacks. Excessive or rapid breathing leads to low levels of carbon dioxide in the blood. During hyperventilation one may breath fast and experience some of the following symptoms:
- Chest pain
- Dry mouth
- Muscle spasms
- Numbness in hands, legs and near mouth
- Heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath
During hyperventilation, more carbon dioxide is removed than the amount of carbon dioxide that is produced metabolically in the tissues. This causes the pH of the blood to rise, thereby making too alkaline. This condition is referred to as respiratory alkalosis. There are two types that may affect a person. The acute form occurs almost suddenly and may cause the affected person to lose consciousness. Chronic form occurs gradually and usually occurs in people affected by asthma, emphysema, or cancer of the lung.
Conditions that induce hyperventilation could give rise to low levels of carbon dioxide in the blood. The contributing factors include the following:
- Anxiety, stress, phobias or hysteria
- Meningitis, encephalitis, subarachnoid hemorrhage, or stroke
- Pneumonia, asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- High fever
- High level of NH4+
- Medications like doxapram, aspirin toxicity and excessive caffeine intake
- Excessive breathing due to high levels of sexual activity
The symptoms that might be experienced include:
- Tingling sensation in feet, fingers,and face
- Hand tremors
- Muscle spasms (extreme cases)
- Mental confusion
- Coma (extreme cases)
Treatment options are recommended once the underlying cause has been identified. Since anxiety or panic attacks can lead to hyperventilation, efforts must be made to reassure or calm the affected individual. Drug therapy is required for people who are prone to panic attacks, or psychological problems. Drugs can also be prescribed to resolve the symptoms of hyperventilation. The patient might be given a paper bag to breathe in. This would help elevate the carbon dioxide levels in the blood. Immediate care is required if the pH level becomes greater than 7.5.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.