Research Article

Respiratory and psychiatric abnormalities in chronic symptomatic hyperventilation.

Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) 1985; 290 doi: (Published 11 May 1985) Cite this as: Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) 1985;290:1387
  1. C Bass,
  2. W N Gardner


    Many physicians believe that the hyperventilation syndrome is invariably associated with anxiety or undiagnosed organic disease such as asthma and pulmonary embolus, or both. Twenty one patients referred by specialist physicians with unexplained somatic symptoms and unequivocal chronic hypocapnia (resting end tidal Pco2 less than or equal to 4 kPa (30 mm Hg) on repeated occasions during prolonged measurement) were investigated. All but one complained of inability to take a satisfying breath. Standard lung function test results and chest radiographs were normal in all patients, but histamine challenge showed bronchial hyper-reactivity in two of 20 patients tested, and skin tests to common allergens were positive in three of 18. Ventilation-perfusion scanning was abnormal in a further three of 15 patients studied, with unmatched perfusion defects in two and isolated ventilation defects in one. None of the 21 had thyrotoxicosis, severe coronary heart disease, or other relevant cardiovascular abnormalities. Ten of the 21 patients were neurotic and suffered from chronic psychiatric disturbance characterised by anxiety, panic, and phobic symptoms. The remainder had no detectable psychiatric disorders but reported proportionately more somatic than anxiety symptoms. Severe hyperventilation can occur in the absence of formal psychiatric or detectable respiratory or other organic abnormalities. Asthma and pulmonary embolus must be specifically excluded.