Symptoms Of Bradypnea: What Are Its Causes & Treatment Options

Bradypnea is a medical terminology for abnormal slow breathing rate. A person is said to be bradypneic if his respiratory rate is less than 12 breaths per minute. One inspiration and expiration make one respiration or respiratory rate. Bradypnea can occur due to various reasons. It can be a normal physiological process while sleeping or can be due to medical problem.

Normal respiratory rate is between 12 and 20 breaths in a minute. If it is lower than 12 the term used is bradypnea and if more than 20 breaths it is tachypnea. Normally we do not know the way we breathe, it is unconscious process controlled by brain. The medulla oblongata, pons and cecrebral cortex involuntarily controls our respiration. But in certain medical conditions when our oxygen intake and carbon dioxide output is compromised, the respiratory rate is altered.

There are several possible causes for low respiratory rate. Heart problems, thyroid disease, brain disease all can cause altered respiratory rate.

What Are The Causes Of Bradypnea?

Breathing is not a simple process as we believe.

It is actually an involuntary process controlled by brain. The area at the base of brain called medulla oblongata, Pons and cerebral cortex manage breathing process. This part of brain sends signals the muscles of chest to contract and relax for facilitating inspiration and expiration. Normally the brain as well as the blood vessels is equipped with some mechanism which can sense how much oxygen and carbon dioxide is present in the body.

Bradypnea can occur due to various medical conditions. They are as follows:

  • Over use of narcotic drugs: Narcotic drugs are used to reduce pain in medicine. However, these drugs are widely abused by drug addicts as their mood altering effect causes sense of euphoria. An over dose of these drugs can affect the nervous system and suppresses the brain function. This leads to depression of respiratory rate. Hence a person taking this medicine must be kept under medical supervision to avoid over dose. However, some drug addicts fall prey these drugs, some time even risking their life because of serious bradypnea.
  • Hypothyrodism: It is a disease related to thyroid gland. In this condition the thyroid gland acts slowly hence there is less secretion of thyroid hormone. This can result in slow down of various metabolic processes including respiration.
  • Obstructive sleep apnea: Person suffering from sleep apnea usually suffers from bradypnea.
  • Brain diseases: Tumor in brain, increased cerebro spinal fluid in braincan cause suppression in breathing center of brain leading to bradypnea.
  • Head injury: Injury to brain stem or medulla can cause low respiratory rate sometimes even stopping breathing completely.
  • Anesthesia, sedatives, can also cause bradypnea.
  • Heart diseases: Bradypnea can develop during heart attack or in congenital defects of heart.

Other causes include: Old age, rheumatic fever, obesity, medications to control arrhythmia of heart, high blood pressure can also cause bradypnea.

Signs And Symptoms Of Bradypnea

Bradypnea can produce following symptoms in a person:

  • Dizziness and light headedness.
  • Weakness in performing any mild physical task.
  • Mild to moderate discomfort in chest.
  • Severe fatigue
  • Breathlessness
  • Confusion
  • Impaired memory
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of consciousness.
  • Frequent fainting spells
  • If occurring due to hypothyroidism there may be accompanying symptoms such as dry skin, dryness in mouth and eyes, weight gain, hair loss etc.
  • Blue discoloration of skin, nails and lips.

Bradypnea for a prolonged period of time can compromise oxygen saturation in the body. Cells and tissue may not get sufficient amount of oxygen hence it can damage the organs and sometime can become potentially life-threatening.

Treatment Options For Bradypnea

Normally respiratory rate is calculated as total number of breaths in 60 seconds. One respiration is equal to one inspiration and expiration. In this way the physician counts the respiratory rate while examining the patient. The physician also checks other vital signs such as blood pressure, temperature of body and pulse. In emergency artificial respiration is provided to the patient. This allows sufficient amount of oxygen to the body. In majority of cases treating underlying condition will help to resolve bradypnea. For example:

  • In case of addiction to narcotics, patient is advised to take treatment in rehabilitation center to stop addiction.
  • If the underlying cause is overdose of anesthetics or other toxic agents, medications are administered to reverse its bad effects.
  • Patient suffering from hypothyroidism is prescribed hormone therapy.
  • In case of head injury the vital signs are monitored. If necessary surgery may be performed to reduce pressure in brain.