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Hyperventilation syndrome is the name given to a collection of physical and emotional responses in the body brought about by hyperventilation (over-breathing when the body does not need it).

Hyperventilating causes a reduced amount of carbon dioxide in the blood leading to further physical and physiological changes in the body. These include respiratory alkalosis (reduced pH of the blood), a decrease in carbon dioxide pressure in the alveoli in the lungs, constriction cerebral arteries and an increase of lactic and pyruvial acid.

These changes in the body can lead to symptoms which can be quite unpleasant but fortunately are not necessarily harmful.

What are the symptoms of Hyperventilation syndrome

Most people may experience one or more of the following physical symptoms;

Respiratory symptoms

  • Breathlessness
  • Tightness around the chest
  • Fast breathing
  • Frequent sighing.

Tetanic symptoms

  • Tingling
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Trembling in hand

Cerebral symptoms

  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Faintness
  • Headaches.

Cardiac symptoms

  • Tachycardia (rapid heart beat
  • Palpitations

Temperature symptoms

  • Cold hands or feet
  • Shivering
  • Warm feeling in the head

Gastrointestinal symptoms

  • Sickness
  • Abdominal pain

Emotional symptoms

  • Tension
  • Fear and Anxiety
  • Fatigue and lethargy
  • Insomnia

Who gets Hyperventilation syndrome (HVS)?

It is very common, especially in females and those aged between 15-55. It may be associated with asthma and may occur after an emotional or stressful experience such as fear, excitement, anger or a panic attack.

What are the causes of HVS?

People with HVS are likely to tense the muscles of their upper body in a response to stressful situations. This can affect the function of the diaphragm and will therefore place extra pressure on the thoracic muscles used for breathing. Extended overuse of these muscles can cause feelings of breathlessness, a tight chest and the sense of suffocation. As a response to these symptoms we start to breath more shallow and rapidly. Sometimes this is experienced with bouts of sighing.

As this happens, the symptoms lead to more stress and anxiety regarding their own condition, fearing the worst and that they may have a serious illness. Some people fear collapse especially when they are outside of their home.

Things can escalate because it’s a stressful situation for the person and those around them. The good news is that when you learn how to recognise the early warning signs there are methods and techniques that can be used in order to manage the attack.

Active cycle of breathing exercises  and postural drainage exercises supervised by a specialist physiotherapistAbove: Active cycle of breathing exercises and postural drainage exercises supervised by a specialist physiotherapist

How can this be diagnosed?

HVS would routinely be diagnosed by your doctor based on observation of your breathing, a subjective account of your recent symptoms along with the doctors understanding of your underlying medical history. For obvious cases more detailed tests are not usually necessary.

Once you have a confirmed diagnosis we can book you in for a respiratory assessment with one of our specialist physiotherapists. They will look at your current functional ability and tailor a maintenance program for you. For more information on how physiotherapy can help treat HVS, or to book yourself an assessment, please contact us via email at or ring us on 0330 088 7800.

What would a physiotherapy assessment for Hyperventilation Syndrome involve?

At we would like to gain as much detail as possible about you, your background, lifestyle and symptoms to ensure we offer the best treatment. Your first session with us would therefore include two parts of the assessment;


This is a background discussion focusing on your experiences of the condition up to date, your current symptoms and lifestyle.


This is to record the information relating to your current breathing pattern; respiratory rate, lung volume, to discern the presence of pain and to identify the presence of any mucus retention and asses for any lung function impairments.

What would physiotherapy treatment for Hyperventilation Syndrome involve?

The therapists at ensure your treatment is tailored towards your specific findings on the subject and objective assessment with the sole purpose of addressing the cause of the symptoms. We want you to be able to return to normal everyday activities and what you enjoy as soon as possible.

For this condition treatment may include;

  • Education and Advice:

    • Illness cause and progression.
    • Medication management
    • Recognising signs of possible HVS episodes and providing the tools to self-manage and prevent re-occurrences

  • Breathing technique retraining:

    • Controlling respiratory rate
    • Diaphragmatic breathing
    • Controlling / reducing breath volume
    • Relaxation breathing exercises

How can I arrange a physiotherapy assessment for Hypoventilatory Syndrome?

If you have been diagnosed by your doctor as having Hyperventilation Syndrome and are suffering from symptoms affecting your breathing, you would benefit from an assessment with one of our experienced respiratory physiotherapists.

You can contact us directly to arrange an assessment and we can advise you if further treatment is recommended, and give you advice on self-management. To arrange an appointment please email or call 0330 088 7800.

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