Hyperventilation syndrome: diagnosis and reassurance

Caitlin Wilson
September 2018

This article provides an overview of hyperventilation syndrome (HVS). Hyperventilation is to breathe in excess of metabolic requirements; in the absence of an underlying organic cause, it is defined as HVS. Alternative terms used in literature are panic or anxiety attack, panic or anxiety disorder, dysfunctional breathing and breathing pattern disorder. This article explores HVS signs and symptoms beyond the familiar clinical signposts of tachypnoea, chest tightness, paraesthesia and anxiety. It will also discuss differential diagnoses and pre-hospital treatment of HVS, focusing on reassuring patients and assisting them in establishing a good respiratory pattern. Patients with HVS use a significant amount of hospital and emergency service resources, ideally placing paramedics to diagnose and treat HVS in the pre-hospital setting to avoid unnecessary and costly hospital admissions. Further research is needed to evaluate the pre-hospital prevalence and diagnostic accuracy of HVS, identify clear diagnostic criteria and design screening tools.

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