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Hyperventilation and Hypoventilation – Can Cause Many Anxiety-like Symptoms

Jim Folk author
Written by: Jim Folk.
Medically reviewed by: Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated: August 14, 2020


A change in blood oxygen (CO2) level, either too much or too little, can cause many anxiety-like symptoms,[1][2] including:

Hyperventilation:

  • Belching or bloating
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Dry mouth
  • Faster than normal heartbeat
  • Feeling as if you can't catch your breath
  • Feeling faint, dizzy, weak, or lightheaded
  • Feeling that air is not getting into the lungs
  • Frequent yawn or sighs
  • Headache
  • Increase in feeling anxious
  • Muscle spasms in the hands and feet
  • Not able to think straight
  • Numb, tingly feeling in your hands or feet
  • Numbness and tingling in the arms or around the mouth
  • Numbness or tingling in the fingers
  • Pounding heart
  • Problems sleeping
  • Shortness of breath, or feeling that you can’t get enough air

Hypoventilation:

  • Bluish coloration of the skin caused by lack of oxygen
  • Bluish-colored lips, fingers, or toes
  • Blushing
  • Confusion
  • Daytime drowsiness, sleepiness
  • Delirium
  • Depression
  • Disorientation
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness
  • Fatigue, tiredness
  • Headaches
  • High or low blood pressure
  • Muscle weakness
  • Nausea
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Reduced pupils
  • Seizures
  • Shallow breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Slow and shallow breathing
  • Swelling of the ankles
  • Tremors
  • Vomiting
  • Waking up from sleep unrested
  • Waking up many times at night

As hyper and hypoventilation relates to anxiety, when you are stressed, anxious, or think you are in danger, stress hormones are released into the bloodstream. Stress hormones cause the body to change its breathing patterns from slow, deeper breaths to either rapid, deeper breaths (hyperventilation) or to rapid, shallow breaths (Tachypnea).

When your breathing changes to either of these patterns, carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the bloodstream decrease. Low levels of CO2 can cause you to feel lightheaded, dizzy, woozy, and faint, which can trigger an instinctive fear reaction. This fear reaction can be sufficient to cause an involuntary high degree stress response similar to that of a panic attack.

Moreover, some people hold their breath or under breathe when they are stressed or anxious, which can cause hypoventilation (not enough oxygen). Not enough oxygen increases CO2 in the blood, which can cause the sensations of feeling lightheaded, dizzy, woozy, and faint, which can also be sufficient to cause an involuntary high degree stress response.

Both hyperventilation and hypoventilation can cause many anxiety-like symptoms, including involuntary panic attacks.[3]

Changing your breathing to a normal pattern can restore healthy CO2, which will eliminate symptoms of hyper or hypoventilation.


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REFERENCES:

1. “Hyperventilation.” MedlinePlus, 28 June 2018, https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003071.htm

2. “Respiratory depression: Causes, symptoms, and treatment.” Medical News Today, 21 Aug. 2017, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319030.php

3. Meuret, Alicia E., and Thomas Ritz. “Hyperventilation in Panic Disorder and Asthma: Empirical Evidence and Clinical Strategies.” NCBI PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Oct. 2010, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2937087