What Is Hypoventilation? - Definition, Causes & Symptoms

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  • 0:00 Definition of Hypoventilation
  • 1:14 Causes of Hypoventilation
  • 1:46 Symptoms of Hypoventilation
  • 2:23 Treatment of Hypoventilation
  • 3:03 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Patrice Oliver

Patrice has taught multiple subjects including Health & Science & has a Master's degree in Education.

Hypoventilation is a breathing disorder that can potentially be very serious. Continue reading to learn more about hypoventilation, including the definition, causes and symptoms.

Definition of Hypoventilation

Jason and I have been best friends for over 15 years. He has been obese throughout our friendship, and on numerous occasions, I have attempted to encourage him to exercise and eat a healthy diet. However, he currently weighs 290 pounds, and he is only 5 feet 10 inches tall. I am really concerned about Jason because he often has trouble breathing. According to his doctor, his breathing problems are caused by obesity hypoventilation syndrome (OHS), a breathing condition that affects some obese people. Since the doctor indicated OHS can be fatal and recommended weight loss as a critical part of his treatment, I will continue to work hard to help my best friend conquer this disorder.

Hypoventilation is a condition that arises when air entering the alveoli, small air sacs in the lungs that are the site of respiratory gas exchange, is reduced. This causes levels of oxygen to decrease and the levels of carbon dioxide to increase. Hypoventilation may occur when breathing is too slow or shallow and is usually a consequence of other medical conditions, such as obesity. Let's look a little closer at the most common causes of hypoventilation.

Causes of Hypoventilation

There are multiple medical conditions that can cause hypoventilation. In other words, hypoventilation is usually secondary to other medical problems. Some common causes of hypoventilation include:

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes emphysema and bronchitis
  • Chest wall deformities
  • Central respiratory drive depression, which can be caused by alcohol and certain drugs, such as narcotics
  • Obesity
  • Neuromuscular disorders
  • Myxedema (severe hypothyroidism)
  • Trauma

Symptoms of Hypoventilation

Hypoventilation is a serious medical condition that can become life threatening. Some symptoms of hypoventilation include stomach problems, headaches, heart problems, faintness, and poor sleep. Issues with sleep commonly occur due to frequent awakenings or sleeping throughout the day.

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