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Breathing Pattern Disorder

The unrecognised epidemic

Breathing Pattern Disorder (BPD) includes Over-breathing, Hyperventilation Syndrome (HVS) and Hypocapnea (low CO2 syndrome).

If you want to appreciate quite how important proper breathing is, try not breathing  for just three minutes and see how you feel…

Very few people come to us with the breathing issues described here, but around 75% of the people we see in fact have one of these conditions. Most people with anxiety and depression, for instance, are also overbreathing. They are almost always involved in MUPS (Medically Unexplained Physical Symptoms), PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and chronic pain, especially pelvic pain (CPP) and fibromyalgia (FMS).


Breathing Pattern Disorders (BPD) are very common, but frequently undiagnosed by both sufferer and doctor alike. Discovering you are overbreathing will be the key to recovery for a great many people who are living with debilitating symptoms that have puzzled their Doctors and Consultants.

The symptoms caused by over-breathing themselves understandably cause anxiety, leading to even more over-breathing, thereby creating a vicious circle. But as you learn to normalise your breathing and so restore balance to your carbon dioxide to oxygen ratio, the unpleasant symptoms caused by over-breathing will subside.


Maybe you can recognise yourself from these symptoms?

  • Agitation, feeling tense
  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Weakness, fatigue, tiredness
  • Light headiness, giddiness, dizziness, sweating, faintness
  • Headaches, neck and upper body aching/pain/stiffness
  • Shortness of breath, gulping air, mouth breathing, rapid breathing
  • Heart palpitations
  • Chest pains, tight chest or throat
  • Dry mouth, difficulty swallowing, lump in throat
  • Colds hands/feet, numbness, tingling, clammy hands
  • Twitching, tremors and cramps
  • Reduced pain threshold
  • Nausea, bloated feelings, IBS
  • Rapid upper chest breathing and fast heart-rate
  • Poor concentration and muzzy head
  • Sleep disturbances,
  • Frequent sighs and yawns
  • Sexual problems

Caution: symptoms such as chest pain, dizziness and shortness of breath need proper medical diagnosis to exclude other pathologies.


Why is this happening to me?

People often find it hard to believe that poor breathing could be involved in some or all of their strange symptoms.


You are not going mad – your problem is not life threatening (although it is quality of life threatening – you can get better…


Overbreathing is when you breathe too much, rather than not enough as people tend to think. This means you are breathing fast, shallowly and from the upper chest. This is a bad habit, not a disease and you may be unaware you are even doing it, just like many people who slouch are not aware of it until they get back pain.

Poor habitual breathing does not imply you have a problem with your lungs themselves and it can affect people who are otherwise healthy. It is not the same thing as asthma, although a lot of people diagnosed with asthma are overbreathing and will be helped by the treatment options discussed here.

Hyperventilation is what we call an acute (sudden and severe) episode of overbreathing. This is usually in response to a stressful or anxiety provoking event or situation. The way we feel has a direct and immediate impact on how we breathe, which is turn leads to changes in your blood chemistry, such as pH and hormones, amongst others.


How do I get better?

  • Fifty percent of the cure is knowledge of the problem and its triggers
  • Fifty percent is work you do, practicing exercises and techniques we will teach you

Treatment involves breathing retraining, which just means learning new breathing habits. This will probably be combined with relaxation or stress handling techniques and possibly nutritional therapy if there s a hormonal or biochemical part to your problem. People who have had poor breathing habits for a long time may need physio bodywork on the back and chest to get the diaphragm and ribs moving properly again.


Testing and assessing Breathing Pattern Disorder

This is a four part process:

  1. Full case history – to understand why this is happening
  2. Capnography – a computer based breath analysis that accurately measures O2, CO2, BPM and variability
  3. Nijmegen – a questionnaire that assesses hyperventilation
  4. Mechanical functional assessment – to see how your rib cage, spine and muscles are functioning


What do you need to do now?:




Technical information

Breathing and alkalinity

Respiratory alkalosis is low levels of carbon dioxide in the blood due to breathing excessively.

  • High PCO2 is the same as Respiratory Acidosis
  • Low PCO2 is the same as Respiratory Alkalosis

The quickest and most effective way to increase the alkalinity of your blood is to practice relaxed and effortless natural breathing at around 6 breaths per minute, as this balances O2/CO2. Low CO2 induces respiratory alkalosis, which causes blood acidosis. This is a much quicker effect than eating an ‘alkalising diet’.


Paradoxical breathing

Paradoxical breathing is when the respiratory diaphragm rises instead of falls on inhalation. Because the diaphragm is directly connected to the pelvic floor (PF), paradoxical breathing  can also cause the PF to move in the wrong direction during an attempt to control the bladder, leading to bladder pain and other urinary or prostate symptoms. Another type of paradoxical behaviour occurs when the PF cant relax when trying to pass a bowel movement, called Dyssynergia, or anismus.


The physiology of respiration

We breathe in oxygen-rich air and breathe out the carbon-dioxide our body constantly produces. But if too much carbon dioxide is flushed out of the system, it alters the body’s normal pH (acid/alkaline balance). This in turn produces physiological changes. Even slight falls in carbon dioxide levels will directly affect nerve cells, as well as blood flow to the heart and brain, producing a wide variety of symptoms in many system in the body.


Glossary – what all the words mean

Overbreathing – breathing in too much and not out enough

Breathing Pattern Disorder (BPD) – habitual poor breathing

Hyperventilation Syndrome (HVS) – acute over-breathing in stressful situations

Hypocapnea –low CO2 due to over-breathing

Respiratory alkalosis – low levels of carbon dioxide in the blood

Paradoxical breathing – diaphragm rising instead of falling on inhalation

MUPS – Medically Unexplained Physical Symptoms


Useful books

Multidisciplinary Approaches to Breathing Pattern Disorders

Leon Chaitow, Dinah Bradley. Christopher Gilbert (Churchill Livingstone)


Hyperventilation Syndrome/Breathing Pattern Disorders

Dinah Bradley (Random House 2007.)3rd edition.) (Kyle Cathie UK 2006)


Breathing Works for Asthma

Dinah Bradley & Tania Clifton-Smith (Random House 2003)


Breathe Stretch & Move

Dinah Bradley & Tania Clifton-Smith (Random House 2005)