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Respiratory alkalosis

Definition

Respiratory alkalosis is a condition marked by a low level of carbon dioxide in the blood due to breathing excessively.

Alternative Names

Alkalosis - respiratory

Causes

Common causes include:

  • Anxiety or panic
  • Fever
  • Overbreathing (hyperventilation)
  • Pregnancy (this is normal)
  • Pain

Any lung disease that leads to shortness of breath can also cause respiratory alkalosis (such as pulmonary embolism and asthma).

Symptoms

The symptoms may include:

  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Numbness of the hands and feet

Exams and Tests

Your health care provider will perform a physical exam. Tests that may be done include:

Treatment

Treatment is aimed at the condition that causes respiratory alkalosis. Breathing into a paper bag -- or using a mask that causes you to re-breathe carbon dioxide -- sometimes helps reduce symptoms when anxiety is the main cause of the condition.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Outlook depends on the condition that is causing the respiratory alkalosis.

Possible Complications

Seizures may occur if the alkalosis is extremely severe. This is very rare.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your provider if you have any symptoms of lung disease, such as long-term (chronic) cough or shortness of breath.

References

Effros RM, Swenson ER. Acid-base balance. In: Broaddus VC, Mason RJ, Ernst JD, et al, eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 7.

Seifter JL. Acid-base disorders. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 118.


Review Date: 8/21/2016
Reviewed By: Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, MHS, Paul F. Harron, Jr. Associate Professor of Medicine, Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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