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Millions of people suffer from the effects of hypocapnia, without even realizing it, when they go to work, face life challenges, and communicate with others. These effects can be dramatic, disturbing, disruptive, even terrifying as in the case of panic attack. They are usually misinterpreted by everyone, including the person overbreathing, friends, family, colleagues, counselors, and healthcare practitioners.   The effects are usually identified as “unexplained,” or they are attributed to other “causes,” usually ones consistent with practitioner bias and professional background.

Hypocapnia (carbon dioxide deficit) as a consequence of overbreathing is commonplace. Based on surveys regarding ambulance calls, 60 percent of the ambulance runs in the larger USA cities may be a direct consequence of symptoms precipitated by overbreathing! It is estimated that 10 to 25 percent of the U.S. population may be suffering some of the effects of learned overbreathing! The effects of behaviorally altering acid-base physiology can be profound and dramatic, effects well recognized in clinical physiology. Hypocapnia may cause, trigger, exacerbate, and/or perpetuate profound short-term and long-term physical and mental changes. Some of the acute (immediate) symptoms triggered by overbreathing include:

ABDOMEN: nausea, cramping, and bloatedness;

BLOOD: red blood cell rigidity, thrombosis;

CHEST: tightness, pressure, pain, sense of confinement;

COGNITION: attention deficit, inability to think, poor memory, learning deficits;

CONSCIOUSNESS: dizziness, loss of balance, fainting, blackout, confusion, disorientation, disconnectedness, hallucinations, traumatic memories, self-esteem, personality shifts;

EMOTION: anxiety, anger, panic, apprehension, worry, crying, low mood, frustration, performance anxiety, phobia;

HEART: palpitations, increased rate, angina symptoms, arrhythmias, nonspecific pain, ECG abnormalities;

MOVEMENT: coordination, reaction time, balance;

MUSCLES: tetany, hyperreflexia, spasm, weakness, fatigue, pain;

PERFORMANCE: endurance, altitude sickness, eye-hand coordination, rehearsal, anxiety, muscle fatigue/spasm;

PERIPHERAL CHANGES: trembling, twitching, shivering, sweatiness, coldness, tingling, and numbness;

SENSES: blurred vision, dry mouth, sound seems distant, reduced pain threshold;

SLEEP: apnea, difficulty falling asleep;

STRESS: tenseness, acute fatigue, chronic fatigue, effort syndrome weakness, headache, burnout;

RESPIRATION: shortness of breath, bronchial constriction/spasm, increased airway resistance, reduced lung compliance, asthma symptoms, feelings of suffocation, air hunger

VASCULAR: hypertension, migraine, digital artery spasm, ischemia.

Acute effects of hypocapnia, depending on the person, can trigger symptoms of all kinds, including virtually all of the symptoms identified with the “effects of stress.” An example is increased likelihood of bronchial constriction, increased airway resistance, and reduced lung compliance, effects which made lead to labored breathing (difficulty in “getting your breath”) and contribute substantially, both physically and psychologically (e.g., fear of not getting your breath), to the likelihood of a breathing-struggle episode, even an asthma attack. Other examples include muscle constriction in (1) the gut, leading to increased likelihood of spasm, pain, and nausea, and (2) the vascular system, leading to dramatically reduced oxygen and glucose supply to the brain, coronary constriction in the heart, vascular resistance, and possible vasospasm and high blood pressure.

What are the principles that account for these effects? Click here to learn more: physiological changes.

What are some of the immediate symptoms of hypocapnia?   Click here to learn more: symptoms and deficits.