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What causes hyperventilation?

About the causes of the hyperventilation syndrome much is written, but only little is clear. Non-psychological causes mentioned are: asthma, pain, pneumonia, anemia, chest or heart complaints, fever, long speeches, high altitudes, diabetes, kidney and liver disorders, increased progesterone levels, glandular fever, virus infections, etc. However, hyperventilation is usually the result of psychosocial stress in people’s lives and thus it is labeled as a psychosomatic disease.

Hyperventilation – how does it start?

Before the first apparent attack, often a long period of psychosocial stress, fear, anxiety or depression has occurred. Frustrations, anger, sadness, divorce, unemployment, a forced move, conflict, puberty; emotions that come with these situations are often not sufficiently expressed. It is likely that other factors also contribute to chronic hyperventilation. For example, the deep inhaling of cigarettes can be regarded as a form of hyperventilating, and it too can develop into full chronic hyperventilation syndrome. Also excessive use of caffeine can cause symptoms of the syndrome. Caffeine in coffee, tea, chocolate, cola (theobromine), but also aspirin, nicotine and amphetamines can put – especially when overused – the respiratory center in the brain into increased activity.

In all these situations, the patient breathes more than is actually needed. As a result, the CO2 buffers of the body are depleted.

(See explanation of chronic hyperventilation)

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The psychological profile of people suffering from chronic hyperventilation

People that hyperventilate are usually unsure of themselves, even though they manifest themselves as being strong and independent. Often, they are afraid to make a weak or childish impression, and set (unrealistically) high standards for themselves. Usually, they show excessive devotion for duty and perfectionism. Under conditions of psychosocial stress they keep continuing with ‘business as usual’, sometimes even until they drop. They have a continuing tendency to control their feelings and expressions of frustration. Loneliness can also lead to an increased risk of hyperventilation.

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