1. Respiratory alkalosis accompanies the clinical syndrome of tetany, precipitates cardiac arrhythmias and predisposes to coronary vasoconstriction. Magnesium plays a critical role in the maintenance of membrane function, and magnesium depletion is often associated with cardiac arrhythmias or vasoconstriction.
2. As technology for detecting circulating ionized magnesium (the most interesting form with respect to physiological and biological properties) is now available in the form of new magnesium-selective electrodes, the effect of respiratory alkalosis induced by voluntary overbreathing for 30 min on circulating ionized magnesium was studied in eight healthy subjects.
3. The total plasma magnesium concentration was not modified by hyperventilation. On the contrary, hyperventilation was associated with a significant reduction in the ionized magnesium concentration of 0.05 (0.02–0.15) mmol/l (median and range) and in the free magnesium fraction of 0.06 (0.01–0.19). During hyperventilation the relative intravascular magnesium mass, calculated from changes in total plasma magnesium concentration and haematocrit, decreased significantly.
4. It is concluded that acute overbreathing reduces the circulating ionized magnesium concentration and the intravascular magnesium mass. It is therefore conceivable that extracellular magnesium deficiency is at least a subsidiary cause of the syndrome of tetany and the cardiac complications that are precipitated by hyperventilation.