Hyperventilation is fast breathing. In some cases, people who hyperventilate may breath deeper than normal.

The body usually breathes automatically, without a person having to think about it. On average, people take about 12 to 15 breaths a minute.

A normal breathing rate allows oxygen to get into the lungs and carbon dioxide to leave. If a person hyperventilates, it upsets the balance of these gases by removing too much carbon dioxide from the body.

When the carbon dioxide levels become low, it can change the pH of the blood and lead to a condition called alkalosis, which may make a person feel weak or faint.

In this article, learn more about hyperventilation, the possible causes, and when to see a doctor.


The main symptom of hyperventilation is fast breathing. Rapid breathing can cause low carbon dioxide levels in the body, which may lead to additional symptoms.

Symptoms that may occur along with hyperventilation include:

  • lightheadedness
  • numbness or tingling in the fingers
  • a pounding heart
  • a feeling that air is not getting into the lungs
  • headache
  • anxiety


Hyperventilation is not a disease. Instead, it is a symptom of another condition or the result of emotional distress.

Possible causes of hyperventilation include:

Fear, panic, or stress

One of the most common causes of hyperventilation is emotional distress, including panic, fear, or anxiety. One study of people experiencing hyperventilation found that the most common additional symptom was fear.

About half of the people in the study also had a psychiatric condition. Some doctors refer to hyperventilation due to emotions as “hyperventilation syndrome.”


Some types of infections in the body can lead to hyperventilation. Infections such as pneumoniacan cause swelling and a buildup of fluid in the lungs, which could lead to fast breathing.

Head injury

The brain plays an essential role in controlling breathing. If a person has a head injury, it can lead to changes in the breathing rate, including hyperventilation.

Additional symptoms of a head injury include a headache, nausea, and confusion. Anyone with a serious head injury should see a doctor immediately.

Lung diseases

Certain lung diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma, can make breathing more difficult. The airways may narrow, making someone work harder to get air into the lungs, which could lead to rapid breathing.

If a lung disease causes hyperventilation, symptoms may also include wheezing, chest pain, and coughing.

Diabetic ketoacidosis

Diabetic ketoacidosis is a complication of diabetes. It can occur if the body does not have enough insulin for energy and burns fat instead.

If the body relies on fats for too long, byproducts called ketones can build up in the body. Hyperventilation is one of the symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis. Other symptoms include nausea, excessive thirst, and frequent urination.

Written By MaryAnn de Pietro