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Panic Attacks

Hyperventilation

Hyperventilation causes Panic Attacks.

Hyperventilation or over-breathing is breathing in a rapid, shallow way using the upper chest, instead of the abdomen. Breathing this way produces more oxygen than the body needs and the result is a fall in carbon dioxide levels in the blood. This causes a multitude of symptoms, which mimic most known diseases. It can complicate the picture where there is organic disease and it can also be the cause of endless fruitless investigations: neurological tests, heart tests, barium meals etc.

How Hyperventilation affects the body

Since the normal functioning of every system in the body depends on the correct amounts of oxygen and carbon dioxide circulating in the blood, it is easy to see why this 'unbalanced blood' causes havoc. Although formerly it was thought that anxiety caused hyperventilation it is now known that it can be the other way round. Mr Lum, Consultant Chest Physician, Papworth Hospital, states that anxiety is the result of the symptoms of hyperventilation and that patients can be cured by eliminating faulty breathing. And in 1987 he added 'It now must be recognised as a major factor in many neurosis, particularly panic disorder and phobic states'.

Symptoms of Hyperventilation

  • General exhaustion
  • Aching muscles
  • Panic Attacks
  • Feelings of unreality
  • Depersonalization
  • Dizziness
  • Faintness
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Free floating anxiety
  • Poor memory
  • Tingling hands/feet
  • DIfficulty swallowing
  • Occasinal sighs
  • Neck/shoulder pains
  • Burping
  • Irritable Bowels
  • Allergies
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Distorted vision
  • Sensitive to light and sound
  • Ringing in ears
  • Increased effect of alcohol
  • Decrease in pain sensation
  • Lack of concentration
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain in chest

Recognizing hyperventilation

It is easy to recognize severe hyperventilation: erratic, noisy, rapid breaths where the chest is heaving and the abdomen is hardly moving. The person feels the need to take an occasional deep breath and often finds it difficult to breathe out. Sighing at intervals seems to relieve this. Chronic hyperventilation is not easy to identify because there is nothing dramatic to see or hear: quiet shallow rapid breaths with most of the movement from the upper chest. Often people are unwilling to accept that their breathing pattern is causing their symptoms: a familiar statement is 'My breathing has always been like this, how it could possibly be making me feel so ill.' However, in a non-hyperventilating moment, if you speed up your breathing you will experience the rapid return of your symptoms.

How one develops the habit of hyperventilating

There are several triggers: tension, depression, chest troubles, stuffy nose, allergies, wearing tight clothes or a spinal brace, folding arms across the chest, physical pain, trying to hold in emotional pain.

Tick any of the above triggers you experience frequently to find out what makes you breathe shallow and ultimately causes your panic attacks.

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