HYPERVENTILATION SYNDROME / BREATHING PATTERN DISORDERS
An excellent overview of this common and disabling condition.
* Hyperventilation syndrome is a breathing disorder * It affects between 10-30 percent of otherwise healthy people * Symptoms include shortness of breath, rapid breathing and heart rate * Symptoms such as chest pain or dizziness should be checked by a doctor * Hyperventilation may be a response to emotional or environmental factors * The condition can cause changes to bodily systems, tension and headaches * Treatment involves breathing retraining and medication is some cases
What is it?
Hyperventilation syndrome/Breathing Patterns Disorders are defined simply as moving more air through the chest than the body can deal with. It may be caused by breathing faster than normal (more than 15 breaths a minute) mouth breathing, sighing or yawning frequently.
Most people have experienced short episodes of acute over breathing during stressful or frightening events and its very easy to spot. But more subtle is chronic hyperventilation which is characterized by a wide array of symptoms, mimicking serious disease, baffling to both sufferer and doctor alike.
The balance between the oxygen-rich air we breathe in and the carbon-dioxide rich air breathed out is balanced by the lungs. In chronic over breathers, too much carbon dioxide is flushed out of the system, altering normal body chemistry and disturbing the body's pH (acid/alkaline balance), producing unpleasant physiological changes. Even slight falls or fluctuations in carbon dioxide levels will directly effect nerve cells, as well as blood flow to the heart and brain, producing a wide variety of symptoms in any organ or system in the body.
Natural anxiety over symptoms leads to further over-breathing, creating a vicious circle. This new breathing pattern becomes a major stress all by itself.
A largely unrecognized side effect of prolonged stress, hyperventilation syndrome (HVS) often holds the key to a wide range of health problems.
The normal pattern of breathing often changes from abdominal breathing to upper chest breathing, often through the mouth, leading to musculo-skeletal changes of upper chest and neck muscles which in turn causes pain, tension and headaches.
Described as a diagnosis begging for recognition, HVS is increasingly recognized as a significant cause of ill-health, although remains widely under-diagnosed.
Why does this happen?
HVS is the body's way of signaling distress, and there are many triggers, involving physical, emotional and environmental factors:
· Especially at risk are people who push themselves too hard at work, study, or sport. Or simply burn the candle at both ends. · For some HVS is an occupational hazard if their jobs involve a lot of speaking. (Actors, lawyers, telephonists). · Dusty or noisy workplaces. · Chronic mouth-breathers are particularly prone, as are people with asthma. · Anaemia (not enough red oxygen carrying cells in the blood) stimulates breathing rates. · Hormonal triggers. CO2 levels drop by up to 25% post ovulation, during pregnancy, and menopause. · Poor posture or ergonomics at work and resulting Occupational Overuse Syndrome are common triggers. · After surgery, or illness, or prolonged social or physical stress
What are the symptoms?
ACUTE ATTACK - agitation, rapid upper chest breathing and heart-rate, chest pains, shortness of breath, nausea, tingling dizziness, clammy hands, dilated pupils, perhaps fainting and general weakness.
CHRONICITY - general tiredness, lack of concentration and sleep disturbances, tingling, dizziness, chest pains and palpitations, irritable cough and breathing discomfort with frequent sighs and yawns, erratic blood pressure, upset gut, bloated feelings, nausea, sexual problems, achy muscles, twitching and cramps, tension and panicky feelings, depression and anxiety.
If undiagnosed and untreated, the chronic hyperventilator lives in fear and loathing of symptoms, self confidence takes a nose-dive. Life becomes a misery for the over-breather as well as family and friends.
Caution: known as the great mimic, some HVS symptoms such as chest pain, dizziness and shortness of breath need checking by your doctor to rule out serious events.
What can be done to help?
An accurate diagnosis, recognition of causes or triggers, and an expert assessment by a specialist physiotherapist is the first step.
This will provide a structured plan of attack - in breathing retraining, upper respiratory health assessment, postural and upper chest musculo-skeletal balancing, stress recognition, physical coping strategies, sleep hygiene and a graduated fitness regimen/lifestyle appraisal.
Counselling for anxiety and depression if required. Medication such as anti-anxiolytics/muscle relaxants if indicated.
Fifty percent of the cure is knowledge of the disorder and its triggers. Fifty percent is hard graft, undertaking and committing to breathing pattern retraining and learning effective specific relaxation methods.
It takes up to 6 to 8 weeks to change an established pattern from dysfunctional breathing, back to normal. Some may take longer.
Regular and effective practice is essential with regular checks with your specialist physiotherapist and liaison with your GP, and/or counselor.
Am I going mad? Have I got a serious disease? Why me? Will I ever get over it? These are all common expressions of disbelief at being diagnosed with HVS.
The good news is HVS/Breathing Pattern Disorders are just that -- a disorder not a disease. The bad news is that it takes time, patience, and practice, practice, practice. There is no instant cure.
As you learn to normalize your breathing and so restore balanced carbon dioxide and oxygen levels, the unpleasant symptoms associated with over-breathing will subside. You can enjoy life again!
Your doctor will be able to help.
B r e a t h i n g Works - Breathing Pattern Disorders Clinic and Resource Centre.
Useful books; Hyperventilation Syndrome/Breathing Pattern Disorders. · Dinah Bradley (Random House 2007.)3rd edition.) (Kyle Cathie UK 2006)
· Breathing Works for Asthma. Dinah Bradley & Tania Clifton-Smith (Random House 2003)
· Breathe Stretch & Move. Dinah Bradley & Tania Clifton-Smith (Random House 2005)
· Multidisciplinary Approaches to Breathing Pattern Disorders. Leon Chaitow, Dinah Bradley. Christopher Gilbert (Churchill Livingstone 2002
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