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What Is Tachypnea? - Definition, Causes & Treatment

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Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

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Tachypnea is a breathing condition caused by an imbalance of carbon dioxide and oxygen. Explore this condition by learning its definition, common causes, symptoms, and methods for treatment. Updated: 10/14/2021

What is Tachypnea?

Tachypnea is the medical term for rapid and shallow breathing, often confused with hyperventilation, which is breathing that is rapid but deep. Both disorders are caused by a buildup of carbon dioxide in the lungs, which causes a buildup of carbon dioxide in the bloodstream.

When this happens, the blood becomes more acidic than usual, and this alerts the brain that something is wrong. In response, the brain signals the respiratory system to pick up the pace to try to fix the imbalance and stabilize the blood's pH back within its normal range. The normal breathing rate for a healthy resting adult is in the range of 8-16 breaths per minute. Anything higher than this is considered tachypnea.

Newborn infants can experience a form of tachypnea called transient tachypnea. This occurs when there is residual fluid in the lungs, causing fast and shallow breathing. The condition usually goes away on its own within the first 24 hours, and infants are closely monitored during this time.

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  • 0:00 What Is Tachypnea?
  • 1:02 Causes
  • 1:29 Symptoms
  • 1:54 Treatment
  • 2:35 Lesson Summary
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Tachypnea can be caused by a number of conditions. Chronic conditions like asthma, lung disease, anxiety, or obesity can lead to tachypnea. It may also be caused by acute conditions like pulmonary embolism (blood clots in lungs), choking, heart failure, shock, or heatstroke. Lung infections can also cause tachypnea. Some common ones you'll probably recognize are bronchiolitis or pneumonia.


Obviously, the most pronounced symptom is breathing that is fast and shallow. When the lungs have too much carbon dioxide, it creates a feeling like you can't get enough air. Other symptoms may include a bluish-gray tint of the skin, nails, lips, or gums, lightheadedness, chest pain, fever, a chest that caves in with each breath, or breathing that gets worse over time.

Tachypnea can cause the skin to appear bluish in color.

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Additional Activities

Writing Prompts on Definition, Causes, and Treatment of Tachypnea

Prompt 1

David, a 30-year old mechanic, was rushed to the emergency room of a hospital. There, he complained of intense chest pain with rapid and shallow breathing. David's condition was also accompanied by abnormal fluid retention (anasarca), causing his abdomen to swell. His medical record indicated that he only had a background of mild asthma and rarely required his inhaler. Moreover, a mental examination showed that he has signs of anxiety and depression induced by financial problems and overfatigue.

  1. In this scenario, is anasarca the reason why David is experiencing rapid with shallow breathing? Is he experiencing Tachypnea?
  2. Give two causes for his shallow breathing. Refer to the possible causes provided in the lesson.

Prompt 2

A newborn baby was admitted to the hospital for prematurity and feeding difficulty. He was born at 34 weeks gestation via C-section delivery. After admission, he demonstrated slightly diminished breath sound and grunting. His breathing rate was about 70-80 breaths per minute, and his skin had a bluish-grey tint. Fortunately, his chest radiograph showed no abnormalities, and his breathing stabilized within 24-hours.

  1. In this scenario, is the baby experiencing hyperventilation? If not, what could it possibly be? (HINT: Hyperventilation is rapid, but deep breathing)
  2. What could've probably caused his condition?

Sample Answers

Prompt 1

  1. Anasarca is not the reason for David's breathing problem. The rapid and shallow breathing felt by David is a disorder commonly known as Tachypnea.
  2. In David's case, tachypnea is caused by his chronic conditions such as asthma and anxiety.

Prompt 2

  1. The newborn is not hyperventilating. His diminished breathing accompanied by grunting is a clear indication that he is experiencing tachypnea.
  2. In infants, tachypnea is rather normal and is caused by residual fluid deposited in the lungs after birth. Such fluid must be cleared from the lungs so that the newborn can breathe normally.

Medical Disclaimer: The information on this site is for your information only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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