Hyperventilation and Carbon Dioxide

Hyperventilation is a rapid deep breathing that causes Carbon Dioxide (CO2) levels to drop in the blood. Decreased CO2 stimulates nerve cells, which prime the body for action. Muscle tension is increased and sensitivity and perception heightened, the pain threshold is lowered and adrenaline is released into the blood.

As CO2 drops even further, cells begin to produce lactic acid to counteract the resulting alkalinity, and metabolism begins to suffer. Fatigue, exhaustion, numbness, tingling, anesthesia and possible convulsions can result.

Low CO2 stimulates the smooth muscle to contract, constricting blood vessels, particularly to the heart and brain. This may give rise to palpitations. Furthermore, low CO2 causes mast cells to release histamine and other mediators causing further blood vessel constriction. CO2 helps maintain blood pH at 7.4. As CO2falls in the blood, CO2 diffuses from cells, causing intracellular alkalosis. This further spurs cells into frantic activity, producing more lactic acid to combat this alkalinity. The kidney also increases the excretion of bicarbonate (-HCO3). The negatively charged –HCO3 ion is balanced with the positively charged magnesium (Mg2+) in the urine. Deficiency of magnesium causes the kidney cells to produce H+ ions to balance the –HCO3. The end result is intracellular acidity and extracellular alkalinity, which push the body into hyperventilation. This creates a vicious cycle.



Osiecki, H., Meeke, F., & Smith, J. (2004). The Encyclopedia of Clinical Nutrition. Vol. 1. The Nervous System (1st ed.). Brisbane: Bioconcepts Publishing.           pp.: 55/56