Hyperventilation: Overbreathing. This can cause dizziness, lightheadedness, weakness, shortness of breath, a sense of unsteadiness, muscle spasms in the hands and feet, and tingling around the mouth and fingertips. All of these symptoms are the result of abnormally low levels of carbon dioxide in the blood caused by overbreathing [ Medicine Dictionary (2004 1)].

Hyperventilation is defined as a result from abnormal increase in the volume of breathing with an excessive amount of carbon dioxide being removed from the body [ Gleim & Gleim (2008 2)].

Theoretical frame

Hyperventilation is often due to anxiety or panic. Other less common causes include stimulant use; excessive use of aspirin; pulmonary disease such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and pulmonary embolism; infection such as pneumonia or sepsis; heart disease such as congestive heart failure or heart attack; pain; and ketoacidosis when diabetes is out of control.

Clinically, over breathing or known as hyperventilation refers to the state whereas an individual breathe more air then what the body needs. If this syndrome happens daily, it is called chronic hyperventilation. “Hyper” refers to over-doing while ventilation means breathing. The standard volume of normal breathing for a healthy person is 3 to 5 litres of air per minute. Due to anxiety, panic or people having an asthma attack, this breathing level can increase to more then 20 litres per minute which is detrimental to health and unsustainable for a lengthy period. Less obvious and more prevalent is habitually breathing a volume of between 5 to 20 litres per minute.

Severe hyperventilation can be fatal if it is sustained over a short period of time. This may also plausibly creates negative health effects caused by less severe excessive breathing over a long period of time. Long-term hyperventilation will lead towards building up of organ damage, resulting in the development of illnesses to one’s health [Green, Muir, James, Gradwell, & Green (1996 3)]

Carbon Dioxide
Ever since Lavoisier proved in the eighteenth century that oxygen was essential to life, carbon dioxide which is an end product of our metabolism became known as a waste gas. Lavoisier compared bodily functions to the process of fire; both fire and the human body absorb oxygen and produce carbon dioxide and heat. The sustenance of life requires oxygen and carbon dioxide. Just as excess oxygen results in damage to the lungs when the toxicity level is higher than antioxidants can counteract, too little carbon dioxide impairs the correct functioning of all organs. The key to Buteyko theory is that carbon dioxide is not just a waste gas; it is essential for all metabolic functions.

How does overbreathing affect carbon dioxide?

The larger breathe one individual intake; the output will be the same volume. Humans do not store air in any form in each body, thus the volume exhaled will be equivalent to the inhale volume. By exhaling a large volume of air, it will result in a larger amount of carbon dioxide being carried from the alveoli within our lungs and into the surroundings. To understand this, imagine a plastic straw. Place tiny droplets of water along the inside of the imaginary straw. You already know that if you breathe out very gently through the straw, you will not blow out these little droplets of water. However, if you breathe out very quickly, the quantity of air you exhale will carry the droplets of water out with it. This is similar to what happens in our lungs; the more air we inhale causes more air to be exhaled, and this greater quantity of exhaled air results in too much carbon dioxide being carried out of the body.

Medical research has long recognised that the required amount of carbon dioxide in the air sacs of lungs and the alveoli, for a healthy person ranges from 5% to 6.5%. However, constant hyperventilation will lead towards a loss of the carbon dioxide and the concentration may drop to as low as 3% which researcher Buteyko discover that carbon dioxide lower then 3% will be fatal.
Effects of incorrect level of Carbon dioxide

Under normal conditions, the central chemoreceptor which is the respiratory centre located in the brain will instruct individuals to breathe base not on the level of oxygen, but on the level of carbon dioxide. Oxygen can be said to be the main stimulant driving the respiration only when concentration of it becomes low, as in the event of asphyxiation. Thus with decreasing in breathing, it will result in an accumulation of carbon dioxide. Likewise, when the carbon dioxide is higher then required by the body, increased breathing will ‘blow’ out the excess carbon dioxide maintaining the balancing the quantity level.

However, during anxiety or panic situations, breathing more then what the body required over a longer period will result in lower levels of carbon dioxide. The respiratory centre accommodated to this lower level of carbon dioxide and it will instruct the body to hyperventilate in order to maintain this lower level of carbon dioxide, even though the rest of the organs and tissues are suffering. Reversing hyperventilation is achieved both by observing our breathing and by practising exercises to recondition the body to accept a higher but more correct level of carbon dioxide.

Importance of Carbon Dioxide

Transportation of oxygen

Oxygen is relatively insoluble in blood, so ninety-eight per cent of the gas is carried by haemoglobin molecule. The release of oxygen from haemoglobin is dependent on the quantity of carbon dioxide in our alveoli/arterial blood. If the level of carbon dioxide is not at the required level of 5% to 6.5%, oxygen has a stronger "bond" to haemoglobin and so is not released to tissues and organs. What this means is that oxygen is being carried with the blood on a round trip around your body, without reaching its proper destinations such as the cells, tissues and organs. A vicious circle ensues because low oxygen levels will stimulate the respiratory centre, leading to a further increase in breathing and loss of carbon dioxide such as during an anxiety or panic stage.

This research was of ‘bond’ was known as the Bohr Werigo Effect, being named after the researchers who discovered it. It is important to know that blood is 98% saturated with oxygen at a breathing volume of 3 to 5 litres of air per minute.

Dilation of blood vessels

Carbon dioxide dilates the smooth muscle around airways, arteries and capillaries. Reduced carbon dioxide causes smooth muscle to constrict, so people genetically predisposed to develop asthma have greater narrowing of the airways. Reduced carbon dioxide also results in arteries and capillaries constricting. When arteries and capillaries narrow, the heart must work harder to distribute blood throughout the body, resulting in increased heart beat and for some people higher blood pressure. Following an increase in carbon dioxide, there is greater oxygenation of body cells and tissues due to the dilation of blood vessels. Instant feedback comes in the form of reduced symptoms and increased body warmth due to improved blood circulation.

Maintaining PH balance

It is very important that the human body stays within normal acid/alkali (PH) balance. Acid PH is measured from one to seven, with one being much more acidic. Alkaline PH is measured from seven to fourteen, with the most alkaline being fourteen. Neutral PH is seven. The human body requires a slightly alkaline PH of 7.365 on this scale of one to fourteen, and even small shifts in the body’s PH balance can be catastrophic. When carbon dioxide leaves the lungs, the body becomes more alkaline resulting in reduced metabolic functioning and poorer immunity.

Maintaining Human Nature’s Steroid

Cortisol is the body’s natural steroid. Hyperventilation causes an inadequate production of cortisol. When the body is not producing enough to meet its own needs, then it must be supplemented with synthetic drugs such as Becotide or Flixotide. When hyperventilation is reversed, adrenal functioning improves and leads to less need for steroidal medication.

Therefore correct carbon dioxide levels result in:
1 Greater oxygenation of tissues and organs due to Bohr Werigo effect.
2 More open airways thus allowing unrestricted breathing.
3 Better immune system functioning. For example, the immune system is strong enough to withstand colds and infections but not hypersensitive enough to perceive harmless particles such as dust mites, pollens and other triggers as threats.
4 More adequate production of cortisol, the natural steroid necessary to control inflammation.
5 Less mucus production resulting in less restricted airways

Supporting evidence

Buteyko Breathing Methods[Buteyko Training Services 4]

Russian scientist Professor Konstantin Buteyko completed pioneering work on illnesses that develop as a result of breathing more air than the body needs. His life's vocation provided humanity with what is arguably the greatest discovery to date in the field of medicine.
As a result of his research, Buteyko went on to devise a breathing programme for his patients, based on reducing the amount of air that passed through their lungs. When each patient applied reduced breathing, all physiological functions including pulse, volume of breathing per minute and blood pressure were monitored. As time went on, the results helped Buteyko to refine and improve his method.

His theory is based on breathing, the life force of any organism. We humans can live without water and food for many days and weeks but we cannot live without air for more than a few minutes. One wonders then why something so vital to life receives so little attention. It can often take many years before a medical discovery is acknowledged and incorporated into everyday practice. This was the case with Buteyko’s theory, but his experience is reflected through medical and world history.

Although research conducted in Russia in 1962 proved unequivocally the soundness of Buteyko’s method, it was not until 1983 that the Committee on Inventions and Discoveries formally acknowledged his work. This recognition, which begs the question of how many more people would have benefited from the discovery if it was acknowledged earlier, was backdated to January 29th, 1962. Buteyko’s discovery on October 7th, 1952 has improved the health and saved the lives of many thousands of people. Now that his discovery is becoming better known in the Western world, it will save the lives of many more. Professor Buteyko’s method restores correct carbon dioxide levels and therefore leads to an overall improvement in general health and to prevent hyperventilation.

Refuting evidence

Way forward (to do list)

1. Medicine Dictionary. (2004). Definition of Hyperventilation. Information retrieved on 15th September 2008 from official site of MedicineNet: http://www.medterms.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=3853
2. Gleim, I. N. & Gleim, G. W. (2008). ATP Airline Transport Pilot FAA Knowledge Test for the FAA Computer-based Pilot Knowledge Test. USA: Gleim Publications.
3. Green, R. G. Muir, H. James, M. Gradwell, D. & Green, R. L. (1996). Human Factors for Pilots (2nd Ed). U.K: Ashgate.
4. Buteyko Training Services. The Theoretical Understanding Behind the Buteyko Breathe Reconditioning Programme. Information retrieved on 4th September 2008 on the Buteyko official website: www.buteyko.com.au

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explanation, Hyperventilation, Carbon Dioxide

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