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Symptoms of hyperventilation: signs and manifestations

What are the signs or manifestations of hyperventilation? The story of many of my patients starts several years ago. Most of the time they worked in a busy workplace, or during a busy period or sometimes right after a busy period when the stress is declining, and experienced a moment that they cannot explain: a hyperventilation attack. In general, they remember the details of that moment and don’t understand what has happened,but that they need to understand what is happening to heal. If you recognize this with yourself or others in your environment, then the change is big that you suffer from hyperventilation.

The specific complaints can differ and are mostly experienced as: sense of losing control, feeling week or even fainting, start sweating for no reason, a scary or empty feeling in the head, anxiety and panic, everything turns black, dizzyness. You will hear a dozen of different manifestations of these feelings.

“And from that moment on, doctor, I’m scared it will happen again”: they’re scared that it will repeat itself in the future. They anticipate anxiety or fear. This is also known as fear for the fear or anticipation anxiety.

Hyperventilation has many different manifestations, the symptoms can differ, but the ‘elusive’ feeling is the thread.

Another sign or symptom of hyperventilation is that people who suffer from hyperventilation fear that their doctor won’t understand them, and that they keep changing doctors in need to search the cause of the hyperventilation and that they will feel like their doctor doens’t understand them. It also happens that they don’t believe the diagnose or don’t listen when their doctors tells them about hyperventilation. It’s because people think that there’s something else that is causing the problem, wich leads to switching doctors in the hope that they will tell them something else or that he/she will understand them.

Causes of hyperventilation

The true cause of hyperventilation is partly the chemical, physical reaction, that gets worse due to stress. Because the patient starts hyperventilating (mostly unknown to the patient himself) faster and more superficial than normal, a chemical inbalance in our blood arises. Due to this inbalance, a complicated mechanism increases the reception of the nervous system. This causes that several cells in the brain and nervous cells get activated without the stimulus. This leads to faster breathing, your thoughts run wild because the receptors are overstimulated and you start worrying. All these things worsen the superficial breathing and strenghten the chemical mechanism, that overstimulates the receptors when you’re hyperventilating.

Acute hyperventilation

During an acute hyperventilation attack, the patient often gets dizzy, they see the world around them spin, faints and starts sweating. But there are also other manifestations, so discuss your complaints with your doctors if you have doubts.

Chronic hyperventilation

With chronic hyperventilation, the complaints are vaguer and unclearer and can last for years without the patient having a disease, without being diagnosed. Often there are signs of fear, worrying, perfectionism, but not always.

Therapy and treatment of hyperventilation

During an acute hyperventilation attack, it’s important to first fight the symptoms. Most of the time you can do this using a plastic bag to breath in and out, so that he/she breaths his/her own exhaled air back in. That calms the chemical mechanism.

Sometimes it’s best to call a doctor to dose a tranquilizer or sedatives. This can be a good solution on short term, but isn’t a healty solution on long term. So, it’s important to learn the techniques that can break the negative vicious circle of hyperventilation without medication. In case of an addiction to sedatives, withdrawal under medical supervision is advised. Without the complete withdrawal of medication on long term, a definite healing is impossible

Nevertheless that the patient has the subjective feeling of despair about the possibility of healing, the prognosis with the right treatment is good. You can learn how to decline inner stress yourself by learning yourself certain techniques, so that the irritability of your nervous system declines.

This is only possible under the condition that you have patients and perseverence during this therapy. You can easily learn these techniques by enrolling yourself in an online self-helpprogram. Choose a program that supports you daily to keep pushing and not to quit prematurely, because that is a pitfall: your panic can make you quit the program before you see the results. Ask a friend or family member to support you if neccesary so that you don’t quit prematurely. A good online program offers this support.

You can choose to go in therapy with a psychologist or doctor with a therapeutic education. Hyperventilation reacts good on the following forms of therapy: cognitive behaviour therapy for hyperventilation, CBT or RET, cognitive solution focused therapy for hyperventilation or hypnotherapy or EMDR book good results. Choose a therapist whit whom you have a connection with. Most people heal great with online self-help, but some of them need real therapy. You always can start with the online self-help and if you don’t notice some change in several weeks, you can contact a therapist. You can discuss this with your doctor.

Selftest to hyperventilation

Do you want to know in what degree stress, tention, anxiety or depresssive feeling have a part in your hyperventilation? You can easily test this by filling in an test of 21 short questions.

Hopefully, these short reflections help you in your search.

Paul Koeck, MD