Bradypnea: Definition, Causes & Symptoms

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  • 0:00 Respirations
  • 1:08 Causes of Bradypnea
  • 2:50 Treatment
  • 3:49 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jamila Blount
What are normal versus slow respiratory rates? Learn to identify bradypnea and learn what causes the respiratory rate to decrease. Recognize available treatment of bradypnea, and take a quiz to test your knowledge.


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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