What Is Tachypnea? - Definition, Causes & Treatment

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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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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Danielle Haak

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

Tachypnea is a condition that causes rapid and shallow breathing due to an imbalance between carbon dioxide and oxygen in the body. In this lesson, learn why it happens and what the symptoms are.

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.


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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