Bradypnea, which simply means slow breathing, has been linked to a wide range of medical conditions including thyroid disorders, brain disorders, and heart problems. This HealthHearty post tries to enlist the symptoms and probable causes of bradypnea.
Did You Know?
A healthy individual between the ages of 12 and 50 breathes 12 to 20 times every minute.
Bradypnea is a medical condition in which the breathing rate drops noticeably. The breathing rate is unusually low as the person breathes very slowly. However, when the respiratory rate in an average adult falls below 12 breaths every minute, it is considered abnormally slow and described as bradypnea. Similarly, infants up to the age of 1 year breathe around 30 to 60 breaths per minute. So, when the breathing falls below 30 breaths, the breathing rate is unusually slow and is a sign of an underlying medical condition.
In simple terms, when the breathing rate is below the normal range, it is referred to as bradypnea. It is a type of hypoventilation, a form of abnormality in the respiratory rate, in which the breathing appears labored. The degree of respiratory effort in bradypnea is also higher than that observed in healthy breathing rate.
In general, since the normal breathing frequency varies according to age, the bradypnea range is also different in adults and children. The age group and the respiratory range per minute that classifies it as bradypnea is given below.
|Age group||Bradypnea Range
(breaths per minute)
|0-1||less than 30|
|1-3||less than 25|
|3-12||less than 20|
|12-50||less than 12|
|50 and above||less than 13|
Persistent tired feeling and impaired breathing (breathlessness) are the common features of bradypnea. The person often complains about a lack of energy and simple day-to-day activities makes him exhausted. Dizziness, weakness, chest discomfort, and episodes of near fainting are the other symptoms of low breathing rate.
Bradypnea has been attributed to inflammatory conditions like lupus and rheumatoid fever in which the immune system invades healthy tissues of the body. Other causes are discussed below.
Abnormal slowness in breathing is commonly associated with hypothyroidism, a condition in which the thyroid gland located in the neck produces less than normal amounts of thyroid hormones. It is observed that the thyroid has an influence on the respiratory rate and other bodily functions such as metabolism. Hence, any issues with thyroid function may disrupt normal breathing frequency. Medical conditions, like hypothyroidism, can lower the breathing rate, which may lead to shortness of breath.
People diagnosed with sleep apnea may also suffer from reduced breathing rate. This is a sleep breathing disorder in which the affected person may suffer from recurrent episodes of bradypnea. As we all know, sleep apnea is marked by disruptive episodes of breathing while asleep. During sleep, the airway muscles relax, eventually causing them to collapse. This causes pauses in breathing, commonly referred to as apnea. Many times, the relaxed muscles narrow down the airways, which leads to shallow breathing. In either case, the breathing rate drops below the normal range.
Abuse of Narcotics
Narcotics, the pain pills, are often abused for their mood-altering effects as they tend to induce an euphoric feeling. These drugs affect the nervous system and slow down the functioning of the brain. To be more specific, the respiratory center (RC) located at the base of the brain slows down, in turn reducing the respiratory rate. Similarly, excess consumption of alcohol that is known to depress the central nervous system, can cause slowness in breathing rate.
Formation of clots and tumor in the brain can also affect the normal functioning of the brain. This type of brain damage can decrease oxygen supply to the medulla oblongata and cerebral cortex―parts of the brain that control the respiratory center. So brain disorders that interfere with oxygen flow in the brain can cause bradypnea. Brain trauma that often results in elevated intracranial pressure (the pressure of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the skull) may also lead to a reduced breathing rate.
A decreased heart rate may contribute in the development of bradypnea. To put it simply, when the pumping activity of the heart is disrupted, it can lower the breathing rate. The heart and lungs are linked by pulmonary arteries and veins. So poor functioning of the heart can affect the lungs, which may lead to breathing problems. Medical conditions like heart attack, congenital heart defects, congestive heart failure, and myocarditis can lower the breathing rate. Changes in the breathing rate have also been reported after an open heart surgery.
Hemochromatosis that causes abnormal accumulation of iron in various tissues of the body can also reduce the breathing rate. In this condition, dietary absorption of iron abnormally increases. This form of iron overload can also affect the heart function, which may eventually cause bradypnea.
Calcium, magnesium, chloride, phosphate, sodium, and potassium are the electrolytes in our body, that play a crucial role in the functioning of the heart. The heart uses electrolytes to send electrical impulses to stimulate contraction so that it can beat properly. So, when the electrolyte concentration is not balanced, it can disturb the normal heart rhythm. In simple words, electrolyte abnormalities can disrupt the heart rate, which may lead to bradypnea.
Treatment will depend on the underlying cause. The doctor needs to evaluate the patient’s health, pinpoint the underlying condition, and accordingly, decide the treatment. In case of an emergency, supplemental oxygen may be given to relieve bradypnea.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.