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What is Bradypnea?

Yash Solanki, Jamila Blount
  • Author
    Yash Solanki

    Yash Solanki has taught post-secondary science for over four years. He has a bachelors degree in Biology from Iowa State University, and has worked as a scientific researcher at multiple global institutions.

  • Instructor
    Jamila Blount
Learn the definition of bradypnea. Understand what causes bradypnea. Know about the signs and symptoms of bradypnea. Learn how bradypnea can be treated. Updated: 08/22/2021

What is Bradypnea?

What is bradypnea? The bradypnea definition refers to a slower than normal rate of respiration. The average rate of respiration considered normal for an adult is between 12 to 20 breaths per minute. If the number of breaths per minute drops below 12 for a total period of over two minutes, it is considered to be an abnormally slow respiratory rate and is suggestive of bradypnea. However, because a normal rate of respiration will vary with age and activity levels, no fixed number of breaths per minute is used as a benchmark to diagnose this condition.

This condition is sometimes confused with other respiratory conditions such as apnea, which refers to a temporary halt in breathing; or dyspnea, which refers to heavy or labored breathing. However, each of these is considered a distinct medical condition. An abnormally fast respiration rate (generally above 25 breaths a minute) is known as tachypnea.

This lesson will look at the respiratory condition of bradypnea, including its symptoms, causes, and treatment.

Bradypnea refers to a lower than normal rate of respiration (measured in breaths per minute)

shows a cross-section of the human lungs

Age Groups

As mentioned above, there is no fixed rate of respiration that is considered a normal range for all humans. Instead, the normal respiratory rate will vary from person to person, based on the person's activity levels and overall health. There is also a significant difference between the average respiration rate considered normal for people of different age groups.

The average normal respiratory rates for different age groups are:

Age group Normal respiratory rate
Newborn 30-60 breaths per minute
Infant (1 - 12 months) 30-60 breaths per minute
Toddler (1 - 2 years old) 24-40 breaths per minute
Preschooler (3 - 5 years old) 22-34 breaths per minute
School-age child (6 - 12 years old) 18-30 breaths per minute
Adolescent (13 - 17 years old) 12-16 breaths per minute
Adult 12-20 breaths per minute
Older adults 12-18 breaths per minute
Older adults (in long-term care) 16-25 breaths per minute

As seen in the table above, there is great variation in what is considered a normal rate of respiration for people of different age groups. This is why the breathing rate at which a doctor will diagnose bradypnea varies from patient to patient. As a general rule for each age group, a breathing rate lower than the lower normal limit (as specified in the table) is considered suggestive of bradypnea. However, a doctor will make a final diagnosis after taking into account the other vital signs of the patient (such as blood pressure and heart rate), as well as their medical history.

Respirations

Respiration may be a big word, but the process is as easy as, well, breathing. A respiration is one inspiration, or inhale, and one expiration, or exhale. In this process, a person takes in oxygen and rids the body of carbon dioxide.

Generally, we go through our days without having to consciously think about breathing in and out. This is because the high brain, which consists of the medulla oblongata, pons, and cerebral cortex, involuntarily controls the rate of our respirations. But when the body is compromised and cannot properly take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide, our respiratory rate can be altered.

In a normal person, respirations are 12 to 20 breaths per minute, or 1 breath to every 4 heart beats. This person is considered to have eupnea, which is respirations between 12 to 20 breaths per minute. However, factors can disrupt the rate, causing respirations to fall below 12 breaths per minute, and this is known as bradypnea.

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Symptoms of Bradypnea

The definitive sign of bradypnea is a lower-than-normal rate of breathing. The symptoms experienced during bradypnea are similar to those observed in patients suffering from oxygen deprivation. Common bradypnea symptoms include:

  • feeling faint, lightheaded, or dizzy
  • headaches
  • confusion
  • weakness
  • poor coordination
  • chest pain
  • chronic fatigue
  • memory problems

Apart from these symptoms, a patient experiencing bradypnea may also experience other symptoms due to the underlying cause of bradypnea. For example, if a patient is experiencing bradypnea due to opioid use, they may also experience sleep problems, constipation, itching, and decreased alertness. The following section will take a closer look at different causes of bradypnea.

Bradypnea Causes

Bradypnea, or low respiratory rate, may occur due to a variety of reasons. Most of the time, bradypnea is considered to be a symptom of the root cause rather than a condition in and of itself. Some common low respiratory rate causes include:

Causes of Bradypnea

There are several factors that can contribute to bradypnea, such as pulmonary obstructions, increased intracranial pressure, obesity, alcohol consumption, and cardiogenic shock. However, the most common factors that cause bradypnea are overuse of narcotics, brain disorders, and hypothyroidism.

Narcotics are used widely in health care to reduce pain. A narcotic binds to opioid receptors to reduce pain. Narcotics also suppress the central nervous system, therefore reducing the activity of the medulla oblongata, pons, and cerebral cortex, leading to depression of the respiratory rate. To avoid bradypnea, health care providers limit dosages and frequencies of administration for narcotics.

Brain disorders consist of damage to brain tissue, tumors, and increased intracranial pressure. When a person suffers from a cerebral vascular accident, or a clot that travels to the brain and reduces blood flow, there is a decrease of blood flow to the brain tissue. This deprives the brain tissue of nutrients and oxygen. Brain tumors and increased intracranial pressure apply pressure to the blood vessels in the brain, which may reduce blood flow to the brain tissue. All of these factors can deprive the medulla oblongata, pons, and cerebral cortex from functioning normally, which can cause bradypnea.

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Video Transcript

Respirations

Respiration may be a big word, but the process is as easy as, well, breathing. A respiration is one inspiration, or inhale, and one expiration, or exhale. In this process, a person takes in oxygen and rids the body of carbon dioxide.

Generally, we go through our days without having to consciously think about breathing in and out. This is because the high brain, which consists of the medulla oblongata, pons, and cerebral cortex, involuntarily controls the rate of our respirations. But when the body is compromised and cannot properly take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide, our respiratory rate can be altered.

In a normal person, respirations are 12 to 20 breaths per minute, or 1 breath to every 4 heart beats. This person is considered to have eupnea, which is respirations between 12 to 20 breaths per minute. However, factors can disrupt the rate, causing respirations to fall below 12 breaths per minute, and this is known as bradypnea.

Causes of Bradypnea

There are several factors that can contribute to bradypnea, such as pulmonary obstructions, increased intracranial pressure, obesity, alcohol consumption, and cardiogenic shock. However, the most common factors that cause bradypnea are overuse of narcotics, brain disorders, and hypothyroidism.

Narcotics are used widely in health care to reduce pain. A narcotic binds to opioid receptors to reduce pain. Narcotics also suppress the central nervous system, therefore reducing the activity of the medulla oblongata, pons, and cerebral cortex, leading to depression of the respiratory rate. To avoid bradypnea, health care providers limit dosages and frequencies of administration for narcotics.

Brain disorders consist of damage to brain tissue, tumors, and increased intracranial pressure. When a person suffers from a cerebral vascular accident, or a clot that travels to the brain and reduces blood flow, there is a decrease of blood flow to the brain tissue. This deprives the brain tissue of nutrients and oxygen. Brain tumors and increased intracranial pressure apply pressure to the blood vessels in the brain, which may reduce blood flow to the brain tissue. All of these factors can deprive the medulla oblongata, pons, and cerebral cortex from functioning normally, which can cause bradypnea.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the symptoms of Bradypnea?

The symptoms of bradypnea are generally similar to those of oxygen deprivation. These include:

- Feeling faint, lightheaded, or dizzy

- Headaches

- Confusion

- Weakness

- Poor coordination

- Chest pain

- Chronic fatigue

- Memory problems

In some cases bradypnea may result in complications such as hypoxemia, respiratory acidosis, or complete respiratory failure.

What does Bradypnea mean?

Bradypnea means a slower than normal rate of respiration. For most adults this slower rate would be below 12 breaths per minute, for a period of over two minutes. However, this level may vary based on the patient's age group, activity levels, and overall health.

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