The Listener: Anxiety

  • 17 July 2010

“Panic stations” (June 19) missed out one thing: hyperventilation syndrome. The symptoms described in the opening paragraph, “heart is pounding … hands are slick … pain in your chest … you feel dizzy”, are also symptoms of this syndrome. It is likely that many of the A&E admissions described are actually acute hyperventilation attacks.

Hyperventilation syndrome has an easily performed diagnostic test named the Nijmegen questionnaire, which has been scientifically validated and can be found on the internet.
The physiology behind hyperventilation is well understood. In normal circumstances the body has a balanced level of CO2 in the bloodstream; as the people hyperventilate, they breathe out excess CO2, causing a drop of PaCO2 or carbon dioxide in the bloodstream. This leads to a decrease in cerebral blood flow and a change in body pH levels. This gives rise to the wide variety of worrying symptoms described in the article.

The jury is still out on which comes first, anxiety or the breathing problem. But ponder this: New Zealand has an extremely high rate of childhood asthma; could it be that these long-­term asthma sufferers are progressing onto anxiety disorders because of a disordered breathing pattern?

Anxiety sufferers need to be aware a component of their symptoms may be overcome with specialised breathing retraining. There are many well-written self-help books (eg, Hyperventilation Syndrome by Dinah Bradley) as well as physiotherapists trained to diagnose and treat breathing-pattern disorders.

Scott Peirce
(Sunnynook, North Shore)

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