What is bradypnea?

Bradypnea is defined as an abnormally sluggish breathing rate. It is important to note that the normal breathing rate for adults is around 12-20 breaths per minute. If the rate is below 12 or higher than 25 breaths per minute while at rest, it is a sign of an underlying health condition.

The condition can occur while sleeping or awake.

What are the causes?

  • Opioids – these drugs attach to the receptors in the central nervous system which significantly slows down the breathing rate. An overdose is dangerous and can cause full cessation of breathing.
  • Hypothyroidism – if the thyroid gland is underactive, there is a lack in certain hormones. If left untreated, it slows down some bodily processes including respiration. In addition, it can weaken the muscles required for breathing and result to poor lung capacity.
  • Toxins – some toxins can affect the body and result to bradypnea specifically sodium azide which is present in automobile airbags. It is also present in explosive devices and pesticides. If inhaled in large amounts, it slows down both the central nervous system and cardiovascular system. Carbon monoxide is another example which is generated by vehicles, gas furnaces and generators.

    If bradypnea is suspected, a doctor must be seen for further assessment.

  • Head injuries – damage to the brainstem and elevated pressure inside the brain can result to bradycardia and bradypnea.

Other conditions that can result to the condition include:

  • Use of anesthesia or sedatives
  • Lung conditions such as chronic bronchitis, emphysema, pneumonia, severe asthma and pulmonary edema
  • Breathing issues during sleep such as sleep apnea
  • Ailments that affect the breathing muscles or nerves

Management of bradypnea

If bradypnea is likely, see a doctor. In most cases, this involves a physical exam and assessment of the vital signs. Along with the other symptoms, the physical exam and medical history can help determine if further tests are required.

In emergency scenarios, supplemental oxygen and other life support measures are necessary. Overall, proper treatment of the underlying condition can resolve bradypnea.

Other treatment options include:

  • Daily thyroid drugs for hypothyroidism
  • Alternate pain management and addiction recovery programs for opioid addiction
  • Provide naloxone for opioid overdose which blocks the opioid receptor sites and reversing the toxic effects
  • Lastly, monitoring, supportive care and surgery for head injuries

More Information / Disclaimer

The information posted on this page on bradypnea is for learning purposes only. Learn more about the causes by taking a standard first aid course with Vancouver First Aid.






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