What is Freespira? The Freespira Breathing System is an FDA-approved commercially available product based on the capnometry-assisted respiratory training (CART) protocol developed by Meuret et al. at Stanford University and colleagues at Boston University and Southern Methodist University [19-22]. The theory behind both the CART protocol and the Freespira treatment is that many patients with panic disorder over-breathe, creating a chronic state of hyperventilation and hypocapnia, in which the patients’ level of end tidal CO2 (EtCO2) is chronically low. The Freespira treatment teaches the patient to control the rate and depth of their breathing so that they can normalize their end tidal CO2 level, reducing the risk of hyperventilation induced panic and possibly de-sensitizing the “suffocation alarm”.
How does it work? You probably already know that when you breathe in, your lungs take in oxygen, and carbon dioxide (CO2) is exhaled when you breathe out. Research has shown that most people who suffer from panic attacks have irregular breathing patterns and/or hyperventilate (over-breathe) all of the time, not just when they are having a panic attack. This breathing pattern leads to lower than normal exhaled CO2 levels in the exhaled breath. Low CO2 sets off a cascade of effects that reinforce and exacerbate the sense of panic that can create a vicious cycle: you feel panicked so you hyperventilate. Hyperventilation causes low CO2, which in turn makes you feel even more out of breath, dizzy, lightheaded, nauseous - and panicky - which sets the stage for triggering a panic attack, whether prompted by perception of an external threat - such as crowded elevator or an internal threat, such as a sensation of breathlessness or chest tightness.
Freespira directly corrects the key physiological aspect of panic attacks and other symptoms of panic disorder - chronic hyperventilation. Freespira teaches you to stabilize your breathing patterns and increase your exhaled CO2 levels into the normal range to correct the hyperventilation and reduce or eliminate panic attacks.
Freespira utilizes a highly precise, proprietary sensor that samples and measures the CO2 levels and respiratory rate in your exhaled breath and digitally transmits this data to an App running on a tablet. You wear a small nasal cannula that is attached to the sensor for measuring your exhaled air. The only purpose of the nasal cannula is for measuring your exhaled breaths; no gas is delivered. Real-time breathing information is displayed on the tablet and the App provides verbal and visual prompts, guiding you to adjust your breathing pattern to optimize your CO2 level and respiration rate. This ensures that you are correctly training your body to maintain healthy exhaled CO2 levels while stabilizing your respiration rate. All of the above components of the Freespira System are part of the Freespira Program.