Every week, Edwin de Vaal (48), general practitioner in Nijmegen, answers a frequently asked or striking question from his practice. This week it is: How do you get hyperventilation and is it dangerous?
What Causes Hyperventilation?
“Usually stress or tension is the culprit. The stress makes you breathe too quickly and shallowly. That often happens without you realizing it.”
How does that work?
“Because of the tension, the body produces stress hormones such as adrenaline. Your body then prepares to fight or flight: you breathe faster and your heart starts beating faster. That is normal. But if the exertion that the body is preparing for then does not come, it goes wrong. “
“That’s a complicated story. Because of that rapid breathing, you exhale more carbon dioxide and the acidity of your blood changes slightly. Your body notices this and thinks something is wrong. That in turn triggers a stress response and an even faster breathing. ends up in a vicious circle: you start to gasp even more. “
“This altered acidity can cause all kinds of complaints such as dizziness and tingling in the fingers, feet or mouth. Sometimes rapid breathing gives you muscle pain and sometimes even pressure on the chest. It can even feel like a heart attack. That exacerbates the stress and stress. fuels the hyperventilation again. “
“Breathe out for five counts and one in. Extend your exhalation as much as possible until you are breathing normally again. ”
Edwin de Vaal, general practitioner
What can you do about hyperventilation? Breathe into a bag, right?
“That was indeed done in the past. It was assumed that the excess exhaled carbon dioxide had to be inhaled again. But now we know that this is not very convenient.”
“With hyperventilation it is important to emphasize the exhalation. Because hyperventilation is often accompanied by shortness of breath, you quickly have the tendency to breathe in as much and as deeply as possible. You almost forget to exhale. But that makes it worse. only worse. “
How do you do that? Emphasize the exhalation?
“Exhale for five counts and one count in. Extend your exhalation as much as possible until you are breathing normally again. If necessary, ask for help from someone who can coach you.”
When should you consult the doctor in case of hyperventilation?
“If you are in a panic and cannot get out of it yourself. But also if you have a tight feeling in the chest that does not go away or if you think that your breathlessness has nothing to do with hyperventilation.”
More information: Dutch Hyperventilation Foundation