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hyperventilation?! - helen-louise
Now that was... not what I was expecting.

My doctor reckons that 90% of the symptoms I've been complaining about are due to something called hyperventilation occulta, or unseen hyperventilation. I am unconvinced. Exceedingly unconvinced. But reading about it on the web, it does seem to be a real thing.

I didn't think I hyperventilated, but apparently you're only supposed to breathe 12-14 times per minute. What? I normally breathe at least once per second. You mean that's not normal? I'm sitting here now trying to breathe only through my nose, and finding it really damned hard - I think normally I breathe through my nose and mouth together. I feel as though I'm not getting enough oxygen, and desperately wanting to open my mouth and gasp for breath, but apparently that's the worst thing I could do.

How am I supposed to learn to breathe a different way? (Semi-rhetorical question - one of the links above talks about a course for people with asthma to learn to stop hyperventilating). Huh.

Current Mood: confused confused

11 comments or Leave a comment
rivka From: rivka Date: 13th March 2003 05:14 (UTC) (Link)
Huh. That's fascinating. I've never heard of it, but the summaries do seem to include a lot of your symptoms.

The nice thing about this as a possible diagnosis is that there's apparently a simple, non-invasive treatment for it. If it works, great! and if it doesn't work, you haven't lost anything but some time. Even if it doesn't turn out to be the total answer to your symptoms, learning slow/deep breathing techniques is still likely to help your ability to relax when you're anxious.

Deep, slow breathing shouldn't make you feel like you're suffocating. If you're not comfortable breathing through your nose only (I'm not), it's okay to also breathe through your mouth. Just try to slow down the rhythm. Don't hold your breath, and don't drag it out so long that your chest hurts. Maybe you might want to start out trying to slow it down to one breath every two seconds, and then slowly extend that.

Your doctor should refer you to someone who can teach you breathing exercises. If he doesn't, or can't, let me know and I can give you more detailed and specific practice suggestions.
lovingboth From: lovingboth Date: 13th March 2003 05:15 (UTC) (Link)
Hmm. Small animals and babies breath rapidly, but yes adults usually do only breath once every four or five seconds. If I count now, I can do 'one elephant two elephant' on the in breath and numbers three and four on the out.

Have you always breathed like that?
thekumquat From: thekumquat Date: 13th March 2003 05:28 (UTC) (Link)


I had that for a while just before my finals, which my GP reckoned was causing pins and needles in my hands and episodes of weakness, etc. Which sounds like the more recent part of your symptoms, is that right?

The remedy was to breathe into a paper bag each time I felt panicky/lightheaded/tingly - the CO2 conc increases so you're effectively breathing less, but less awkward than trying to change your breathing habits while panicking/feeling lightheaded/tingly. The long thin stiff bags you get prescribed pills in worked best.

Sounds worth a try.
mhw From: mhw Date: 13th March 2003 08:14 (UTC) (Link)

Re: breathing

That's one of the breathing techniques we were taught in our anxiety classes, and, by golly, it's worked wonders for me!
jenett From: jenett Date: 13th March 2003 06:17 (UTC) (Link)
What Rivka said, basically.

I agree especially with the 'doesn't require meds or invasive stuff to try and fix' - I also find myslef with lung stuff that when there's an improvement, it's pretty obvious to me that there *is* an improvement fairly quickly (a matter of a few days, not weeks or anything)

As for learning how to do it - yeah, that takes practice. And it's annoying. But it can be done. One thing I've found useful in readjusting my own breathing practices is really basic breath-counting meditation work - basically, I inhale for four counts, hold for four counts, exhale for four counts, and hold for four counts. (This is not natural human breathing rhythym, by the way - especially the 'hold' bit. But doing it apparently realigns your body in interesting ways. And I know that doing it for a few minutes a day makes a bigger difference in the rest of my day than I'd expected - I haven't had a significant asthma problem in the 14 months or so I've done regular breathing work, and only used my inhaler I think 4-5 times in that time.)

I agree with the 'get a referral to someone who can help with specifics' though.
griffen From: griffen Date: 13th March 2003 06:33 (UTC) (Link)
Interesting. As the child of two professional singers, I was never allowed to breathe just in the top half of my lungs, which is what it sounds like you're doing.

When you breathe properly, your stomach should expand a little bit. I'm not kidding. You need to breathe to the bottom of your lungs in order to get a full breath.

I breathe about eight to ten times a minute. The reason I can do this is because I've spent years and years breathing fully.

The suggestions above are all good ones, but try just inhaling -- slowly -- and letting your chest and stomach (and lungs) expand when you do. I guarantee it will feel different, and better, than any breathing you've done before.

And if breathing correctly is all it takes to cure your symptoms, hey, that's a great, great thing, neh?

nephrozym From: nephrozym Date: 13th March 2003 06:56 (UTC) (Link)
heh, that's the exact opposite of my breathing problems. i used to retain co2, which caused me to hyperventilate to try to get rid of it. eventually i suffered a respiratory collapse and got put on night-time ventilation. breathing in sync with the machine is tricky, but you adjust eventually and it feels perfectly normal.

in your case, i would expect that seeing a chest physio for a while to do a course of breathing exercises would be sufficient, but it does seem to me that assigning the cause of this to stress/depression is a little premature without checking for physiological causes first. it's not likely that you would be retaining co2 without another reason for muscle weakness, but a simple test, with results inside 5 minutes gives a definitive answer. unfortunately, it requires arterial blood, and obtaining it is exceedingly painful unless they take it from the earlobe- only done at the brompton afaik- in which case it's merely very painful.

my approach would be exercises and conscious control of your breating first, because they're simple and non-invasive. if it turns out that you cannot slow your breathing to ~13bpm, or feel worse when you do, after some months of trying daily, then i would go looking for other causes.
gerwinium From: gerwinium Date: 13th March 2003 08:03 (UTC) (Link)
Hmm... I can't say I'm not surprised if it was breathing-related what you're having. I think I've had something similar before, gives rather strange thumping "headaches" above the eye and you feel like you're not really there, just walking through dreams most of the time. I've been seeing specialists for my asthma a few times and they tend to take the time to teach you how to breathe properly and they can also measure things like blood oxygen levels. Did you actually get referred for this? Because it would be useful if you could be by the sounds of it. I could recommend the specialist I've been seeing if it wasn't for that he's in a different country :). In any case, it'd be good if you would know what's going on since it's been ruining your life for quite a while.
nmg From: nmg Date: 13th March 2003 09:26 (UTC) (Link)

Interesting - that does seem to encompass a lot of the symptoms that you've reported. Breathing 'at least once per second' is a bit on the rapid side, and easily falls within the definition of hyperventilation.

Hyperventilation can have many knock-on effects in the body. To give an example, a few years ago one of my then colleagues had a prolonged period of epigastric pain which he and his GP supposed to be caused by a gastric ulcer, but which was eventually diagnosed as a side-effect of hyperventilation (after he'd had two endoscopies which failed to find any ulcers, unfortunately). He went on a course to change his breathing technique, and the problem cleared up within the month.

I hope you get some results by following this through.

submarine_bells From: submarine_bells Date: 13th March 2003 13:08 (UTC) (Link)
Wow. This is really interesting. I've just bounced the details on to a sweetie of mine who is currently wrestling with a heap of medical hassles that include substantial chest pain. He has not been successful in getting a diagnosis (despite have undertaken a raft of tests that have shown nothing), and is starting to get rather frustrated by the whole exercise. I'd never heard of this hyperventilation syndrome before, and it does sound like it might be another avenue to explore. Thanks for raising it here!
jhaelan From: jhaelan Date: 13th March 2003 11:56 (UTC) (Link)
I hope that this is the answer and that you can get through it without invasive treatment or more drugs :)

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