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      Primary Hyperventilation in the Emergency Department: A First Overview

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          Primary hyperventilation is defined as a state of alveolar ventilation in excess of metabolic requirements, leading to decreased arterial partial pressure of carbon dioxide. The primary aim of this study was to characterise patients diagnosed with primary hyperventilation in the ED.


          Our retrospective cohort study comprised adult (≥16 years) patients admitted to our ED between 1 January 2006 and 31 December 2012 with the primary diagnosis of primary (=psychogenic) hyperventilation.


          A total of 616 patients were eligible for study. Participants were predominantely female (341 [55.4%] female versus 275 [44.6%] male respectively, p <0.01). The mean age was 36.5 years (SD 15.52, range 16-85). Patients in their twenties were the most common age group (181, 29.4%), followed by patients in their thirties (121, 19.6%). Most patients presented at out-of-office hours (331 [53.7%]. The most common symptom was fear (586, 95.1%), followed by paraesthesia (379, 61.5%) and dizziness (306, 49.7%). Almost a third (187, 30.4%) of our patients had previously experienced an episode of hyperventilation and half (311, 50.5%) of patients had a psychiatric co-morbidity.


          Hyperventilation is a diagnostic chimera with a wide spectrum of symptoms. Patients predominantly are of young age, female sex and often have psychiatric comorbidities. The severity of symptoms accompanied with primary hyperventilation most often needs further work-up to rule out other diagnosis in a mostly young population. In the future, further prospective multicentre studies are needed to evaluate and establish clear diagnostic criteria for primary hyperventilation and possible screening instruments.

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          Most cited references 12

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          Guidelines for the physiotherapy management of the adult, medical, spontaneously breathing patient.

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            Somatic symptoms and physiologic responses in generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder: an ambulatory monitor study.

            Physiologic responses of patients with anxiety disorders to everyday events are poorly understood. To compare self-reports and physiologic recordings in patients with panic disorder (PD), patients with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and nonanxious controls during daily activities. Participants underwent four 6-hour recording sessions during daily activities while wearing an ambulatory monitor. Physiologic and subjective data were recorded every 30 minutes and during subject-signaled periods of increased anxiety or tension or panic attack. Participants' everyday environment. Twenty-six patients with PD and 40 with GAD, both without substantial comorbidity, and 24 controls. Recordings obtained during everyday activities. Recordings of heart interbeat intervals, skin conductance levels, respirations, motion, and ratings of subjective somatic symptoms and tension or anxiety. Patients with anxiety disorders rated higher on psychic and somatic anxiety symptoms than did controls. Common to both anxiety disorders was diminished autonomic flexibility that manifested itself throughout the day, accompanied by less precise perception of bodily states. The main differences between patients with PD and GAD were a heightened sensitivity to body sensations and more frequent button presses. There also was a trend toward heightened basal arousal in patients with PD, manifesting itself in a faster heart rate throughout the day. Patients with PD or GAD are more sensitive to bodily changes than nonanxious individuals, and patients with PD are more sensitive than those with GAD. Patients with PD experience more frequent distress than those with GAD and controls, but their physiologic responses are comparable in intensity. The findings suggest that the perception of panic attacks reflects central rather than peripheral responses. The diminished autonomic flexibility observed in both anxiety conditions may result from dysfunctional information processing during heightened anxiety that fails to discriminate between anxiety-related and neutral inputs.
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              Ventilatory responses to inhaled carbon dioxide, hypoxia, and exercise in idiopathic hyperventilation.

              Idiopathic hyperventilation (IH) is a poorly understood condition of sustained hypocapnia and controversial etiology. Although behavioral/emotional factors may contribute, it is uncertain whether chemosensitivity is altered, hyperventilation is maintained during exercise, and the associated breathlessness reflects the hyperventilation. In 39 patients with IH and 23 control subjects, we described ventilatory responses to isocapnic-hypoxia, hyperoxic-hypercapnia, and exercise; breath-hold tolerance; breathlessness; and psychologic status. Patients demonstrated hyperventilation at rest, with hypocapnia (28 +/- 3.8 mm Hg), a normal (slightly alkaline) arterial pH and [H(+)]a, and a significant base excess (-4.5 +/- 2.7 mEq/L), consistent with compensated respiratory alkalosis. Hyperventilation was sustained during exercise, despite hyperoxic-hypercapnic ventilatory responsiveness being normal and isocapnic-hypoxic ventilatory responsiveness being low relative to control (but exceeding control [2.4 +/- 1.0 vs. 1.6 +/- 0.5 L/min/%, p < 0.05] with acute restoration to normocapnia). Hyperventilation was maintained during exercise, at the resting CO(2) "setpoint." Relative to control, the breath-hold tolerance was attenuated, and dyspnea during exercise was significantly greater and not simply ascribable to the high ventilation. These observations suggest that patients with IH have a sustained hyperventilatory and dyspneic drive that, although not attributable to central chemosensitivity, may possibly have peripheral chemoreflex contributions. The nature and etiology of this chronic hyperventilatory drive remain unclear.

                Author and article information

                Role: Editor
                PLoS One
                PLoS ONE
                PLoS ONE
                Public Library of Science (San Francisco, CA USA )
                25 June 2015
                : 10
                : 6
                [1 ]Department of Anesthesiology and Intensive Care Medicine, Medical University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria
                [2 ]Department of Emergency Medicine, University Hospital and University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland
                [3 ]Center of Laboratory Medicine, University Institute of Clinical Chemistry, Inselspital-Bern University Hospital, Inselspital, Bern, Switzerland
                [4 ]Department of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, Otto Wagner Hospital Vienna and Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for COPD and Respiratory Epidemiology, Vienna, Austria
                Azienda Ospedaliero-Universitaria Careggi, ITALY
                Author notes

                Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

                Conceived and designed the experiments: CAP SEPN GL AKE. Performed the experiments: SEPN CAP GL AKE. Analyzed the data: CAP SEPN GL. Contributed reagents/materials/analysis tools: GMF ABL. Wrote the paper: CAP SEPN AKE GL.


                This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited

                Page count
                Figures: 2, Tables: 2, Pages: 8
                The authors have no support or funding to report.
                Research Article
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