Bradypnea – What is it, Definition, Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

Bradypnea (or bradypnoea) is a condition that is characterized by an abnormally slow rate of breathing.

When the body is compromised and cannot properly take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide, this can lead to impaired health and respiratory rates.

Bradypnea can affect anyone between the ages of 12 and 50. This condition is often associated with many different health conditions varying in severity.

Bradypnea may be caused by certain pharmaceutical drugs, specific health conditions, cancers, or even metabolic disturbances.

The best way to diagnose this condition is to visit your physician to have all of your organ systems checked. Once specific tests are completed, your physician may monitor your breathing rate at different intervals.

According to researchers, Lippincott Williams & Wilkin, bradypnea may be a secondary symptom of more severe conditions, such as intracranial pressure, diabetes, or end-stage respiratory failure caused by other health conditions.(1)

Generally, individuals that are infants or between the ages of one and three may suffer from this condition with breathing rates under twenty-five to thirty breaths per minute.

Accordingly, individuals between the ages of four and fifty may show signs of this condition with breathing rates ranging under thirteen to twenty breaths per minute.


What Is Bradypnea?

Bradypnea is defined as a breathing rate that is too slow and below the normal number of breaths per minute when the body is not in a resting state. Normally, when the body is at rest or sleeping, an individual’s respiratory rate slows down.

For a healthy individual normal respiratory rate is 12–20 breaths per minute.

However, with this condition, breathing is identified as abnormal when the individual struggles to receive enough oxygen when the body is in an active state.

Depending on the breathing rate of the individual, this condition can be diagnosed as either mild or severe.

According to researchers, Yu Ru Kou and You Shuie Lin of the National Yang-Ming University and the Taipei Medical University, respectively, the amount of respiratory rate can be characterized as mild or severe depending on the symptoms and their onset.(2)

With severe cases of bradypnea, “the body may suffer from decreased alveolar ventilation that can lead to hypoxemia, hypercapnea and even respiratory acidosis,” which damages the respiratory system causing further health concerns.



Upon observation by a physician, an individual’s condition can be diagnosed as symptoms are identified in a systematic manner.

This condition can affect multiple organ systems in the body and may even influence the brain due to the lack of an adequate oxygen supply.(3)

In fact, extremely slow breathing may even significantly reduce alveolar ventilation and cause other conditions that affect health and well-being.(2) Over time, the individual will begin to suffer from a damaged or dysfunctional respiratory system.

The onset of this condition may be identified by:(4,5)

» Chest Pains
» Confusion
» Constipation
» Difficulty Breathing
» Dizziness
» Dry Skin
» Extreme Fatigue
» Increased Cholesterol Levels
» Muscle Aches
» Puffy Face
» Swollen Joints
» Syncope Or Fainting
» Thinning Hair
» Memory Loss



Bradypnea is a dangerous disorder that may be a secondary condition to a much more serious disease that affects the rest of the body involuntarily.

When the autoimmune system of the body is compromised by disease or substances consumed, this may cause the slower breathing rates.

Short-term conditions like pulmonary obstructions, obesity, alcohol consumption and cardiogenic shock may result in the unwanted occurrence of bradypnea.(1,5)


Bradypnea may be caused by several underlying conditions, such as:

Certain Brain Disorders: When the brain is altered and not able to perform optimally, it may trigger disruptions throughout the body. For instance, a blood clot near the center of the brain may decrease the rate of breathing in an individual.(6,7)

Diabetic Ketoacidosis: For patients that suffer from severe diabetes, bradypnea may be a late occurring secondary symptom.(1,5)

Electrolyte Imbalances: When specific electrolytes, such as sodium, potassium and chloride are deficient in the body, it may have a significant effect on the heart and respiration. The lack of these electrolytes negatively impact respiratory and heart rate.(8)

Hypothyroidism: When the thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormones, which results in disrupting the normal balance of chemical reactions throughout the body and it can affect your breathing.(9)

Kidney Failure: As stated by Benjamin Wedro, MD, kidney failure affects other organ systems of the body.(10) The kidneys regulate blood pressure, electrolytes, and red blood cell production.

With the lack of these functions, an individual may suffer from systemic weakness, shortness of breath or even swelling and abnormal heart rhythms that are all associated with bradypnea.

Myocarditis: The inflammation and infection of heart tissues may cause shortness of breath as well as other symptoms throughout the body.(11)

Overuse of Narcotics: Narcotics are pain relieving pharmaceutical drugs that have a direct effect on the central nervous system. With overuse, these types of drugs may suppress the nervous system and inherently affect the respiration center of the brain.(12)

Pharmaceutical Drugs: Certain pharmaceutical drugs are known to have side effects on specific organ systems of the body. With this being said, medicines that are used to lower blood pressure and maintain the rhythm of the heart may cause bradypnea.


Risk Factors

There are a variety of risk factors associated with this condition.

With proper diagnosis by your physician, you can understand what factors contribute to the occurrence of this condition so that you can treat it as it shows up.

Medical specialists have observed specific risk factors that include heart problems and even high blood pressure. Additionally, even stress and anxiety as well as the recreational usage of drugs and alcohol, or even their habitual abuse, may result in dangerously slow breathing.

Individuals with compromised immune systems due to disease should be aware of what pharmaceutical drugs they are taking to ensure that they do not suffer from bradypnea without being aware.



The first step in working to treat bradypnea as it occurs is to diagnose symptoms and isolate the body from triggers.

Once a physician has evaluated all organ systems to understand the scope of this condition, a treatment plan can be made accordingly. The first and most immediate treatment for this condition is to administer supplemental oxygen so that cells and organ systems are not starved of the oxygen needed to maintain homeostasis.(1,5)

If a physician deems it necessary to take more proactive or invasive procedures, surgery or correcting intracranial pressure may be recommended to resolve a more severe onset of slow breathing rates.

If this condition is caused by the abuse of drugs or alcohol, the individual may be referred to rehabilitation programs to monitor and eliminate addiction problems so as to not damage the body any further.

Once the underlying factors of bradypnea are understood, a physician can fully assess and treat this condition.

The duration of symptoms will be required to understand the severity of the condition to create a safe and effective treatment plan for the individual.

If this condition is caused by another condition, the physician will work to treat the condition with medicine or other medicinal therapies to alleviate the amount of symptoms that the individual experiences.

After a treatment plan is created, a physician will monitor the results of each method or technique and monitor breathing rates to make sure they return to normal as soon as possible. In more severe cases, a pacemaker may be installed in the heart to supervise the heartbeat and monitor the rate of breathing on a more regular basis.



When considering the onset of bradypnea, an individual will need to provide their complete medical history to their physician to understand the onset and duration of symptoms.

The longer an individual suffers from shortness of breath and slowed breathing rates, the more damage can be done to the cells and organ systems of the body.

If any underlying health condition is identified, that condition will need to be treated with care and monitored on a regular basis to ensure its efficiency in resolving other symptoms as well as working to increasing breathing rates to a regular rate.

On this note, the treatment plan will depend on the specifics of the underlying condition, the individual’s age, and the overall health of the individual suffering from this condition.

The goal of any treatment plan for bradypnea is to eliminate the rapid onset of sedation or monitoring any types of medicines used to ensure no unwanted side effects and reactions occur that may damage the respiratory system so that the individual can return to a more optimal state of health and well-being.

Read more:


(1)Nurse’s Five-minute Clinical Consult: Signs and symptoms Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2008




(5)Nursing Know-how: Evaluating signs & symptoms Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2009