Hyperventilation - is it the cause of all of our pain ?

As previously reported on earlier blogs, my gasping for air and chest tightness are just two of my many CFS/ME symptoms and I thought I would try to investigate the cause. The following blog is rather technical in parts and has in my opinion a controversial conclusion, but nevertheless some very interesting points are raised and you may find they answer some of your own questions. At the moment I don't feel I have the energy to fully do this subject justice so I cheekily asked hubby if he would mind completing it on my behalf; bless him he agreed to do so.

Hi its Julie’s hubby here I could never refuse a lady in distress so here goes. I will try to simplify the findings without leaving out what the research is trying to prove. Although it is quite technical and medical in parts it's worth sticking with it to the end.

What causes chronic fatigue and chest tightness?

Heavy breathing is defined as (breathing more than the international medical norm) it reduces body oxygen content due to 3 independent mechanisms which I shall briefly describe and then later on in more detail where I think it is required.

First CFS patients are chest breathers and chest breathing reduces oxygen of the arterial blood due to insufficient ventilation and oxygenation of the lower parts of the lungs.

Secondly CO2 deficiency, due to breathing too much causes constriction of arteries and arterioles reducing blood supply to tissues since CO2 is a vasodilator.( relaxes the smooth muscles in arteries.)

Thirdly Less oxygen is released by hemoglobin cells in tissues due to the suppressed Bohr Effect.

Before moving on I think a little more explanation and detail are required for these 3 independent mechanisms.

Chest Breathing

80 to 90 % of breathing at rest should be done using the diaphragm or stomach. Chest breathers also known as costal breathing causes a reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2 ) in all tissues including the diaphragm; this creates a state of spasm in the diaphragm. During costal breathing the lower layers of the lungs receive less fresh air (oxygen) leading to reduced oxygenation of arterial blood in the lungs. During normal breathing using the diaphragm allows inflation of both lungs to fullest capacity which results in higher oxygen concentration for superior arterial blood oxygenation. Costal breathing creates problems with blood oxygenation which in turn leads to reduced cell oxygenation; the driving force of all chronic diseases.

The lymph nodes from the stomach, kidneys, liver, pancreas, spleen, large and small colon and other vital organs are located just under the diaphragm. So with normal breathing the diaphragm helps to stimulate these lymph nodes and encourages them to remove waste products from the sevital organs. A major problem of costal breathing is the stagnation in the lymph system and allows accumulation of waste products in vital organs which affect the smooth running of other bodily functions.

This is where detoxification can be of benefit in reducing the amounts of toxins in the body, (see attached link for ideas on detoxification the natural way )

CO2 Vasodilation

CO2 is a dilator of blood vessels (arteries and arterioles) they have their own smooth muscles that can constrict or dilate depending on CO2 concentrations. When we breathe more, (hyperventilate) CO2 levels become less, blood vessels in response constrict and vital organs like the brain and heart get less blood supply. Similarly hypocapnia (low CO2 concentrations in arterial blood) causes spasms of all other smooth muscles of the body, airways or bronchi, diaphragm etc.

Normal breathing allows the normal perfusion and oxygen supply to all the vital organs. Costal breathers suffer from CO2 deficiency effects, the state of these blood vessels define the total resistance to the systemic blood flow in the body. Hypocapnia increases strain on the heart, under normal conditions CO2 parameters makes this resistance to the blood flow in the cardiovascular system small. So it is concluded that the way we breathe directly participates in the regulation of our heart rate.

CO2 and the Bohr Effect

You will have to bear with me on this one very technical but very interesting if you want to know about energy production in cells and let’s be honest it's one of the main symptoms of CFS/ ME, energy or lack of it. Oxygen is transported in blood by hemoglobin cells, how do these cells know where to release more oxygen and where less? Why is oxygen released in tissues?

Hemoglobin cells sense higher concentrations of CO2 in tissues and in response release more oxygen in these areas. More oxygen is released in those tissues that higher absolute and/or relative CO2 values. This is true for healthy people who have normal breathing patterns, but for people who are costal breathers and prone to hyperventilating it causes hypocapnia or reduced CO2 in tissues, this leads to hampered oxygen release and reduced tissue tension.

So in summary if absolute CO2 concentrations are low, oxygen cells are stuck with red blood cells. Therefore CO2 deficiency leads to hypoxia (low oxygenation of body cells ) known as the suppressed Bohr effect and the more we breathe at rest, the less oxygenation of cells in our vital organs like the brain, heart , liver etc., you can start to see in which direction this is heading.

This Bohr Effect is crucial, some organs and tissues work harder and produce more CO2. These additional concentrations of CO2 are sensed by the hemoglobin cells and this causes them to release more oxygen in those places where it is most required. Under normal conditions due to the Bohr Effect more oxygen is released in those muscles being exercised which in turn generates more CO2, this allows the muscles to continue to work with the same high rate. However CFS/ME sufferers have reduced CO2 blood values and are therefore more likely to suffer symptoms of chronic fatigue due to tissue hypoxia (oxygen deficiency)

Expected effects of hyperventilation

When muscle cells and other active tissues do not get enough oxygen supply, more mitochondria switch from aerobic to anaerobic energy production mechanism. (See attached link on previous article on “functions of mitochondria", which fits into this quite nicely )

This causes high levels of lactic acid content in tissues and blood resulting in the familiar weakness, fatigue and pain in the muscles and the chest ( heart muscle tissue also gets less oxygen and suffers from hypoxia ) all typical symptoms of CFS/ME, well typical of Julie’s symptoms. Heavy costal breathing also results in lower oxygenation of the blood supply to the brain which makes nerve cells over cited and irritable, headaches and anxiety quickly follows.

Chronic over breathing creates cell hypoxia, high levels of lactic acid, the production of free radicals in cells which can lead to possible inflammation in various parts of the body resulting in digestive problems, liver inflammation and many other effects. Inflammatory processes and mental state of chronic stress ( fight or flight response - see attached link for previous blog on stress ) exhausts cortisol reserves a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal gland. This explains how Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome and chronic insufficiency in cortisol level reserves develops, something which Julie is taking supplements for after being tested and confirmed as having an underperforming Adrenal glands.


The conclusion is somewhat controversial in that the article says that the cause of CFS is simple, over breathing or hyperventilation, and that when this cause is removed due to normalization of the breathing process all the symptoms of CFS will disappear. Could it really be that simple? I doubt it! The article does contain some very interesting information, however, in particular how hyperventilation impacts on the functions of the mitochondria, the power house of energy production.

Having watched Julies decline into the depths of CFS/ME over the last 12 months the gasping of air and hyperventilation only became evident to me during the last few months; although Julie believes she has always been a shallow breather. I don’t believe this was the sole cause of Julies CFS/ME symptoms but it is clearly one of the symptoms of CFS/ME itself.

It may be that the breathing problems are more relevant to other sufferers and closely follows their development of CFS/ME, but I will leave that to others to conclude. I would be interested in hearing your comments on this subject and if it is relevant to some of you. Contained within the article are some simple tests you can carry out to see what type of breathing pattern you are, so if you wish to read the article in full or take part in the simple tests click on the attached link here-

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