Bradypnea: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Prognosis, Complications, Prevention

The respiratory system is a multifaceted system. The breathing process is mainly controlled by the autonomic nervous system, which lies deep inside the brain. The normal rate of breathing depends on various factors, such as the age and the degree of exertion of the individual. Normally, a healthy individual aged between 12 and 50, breathes near about 12 to 20 times in a minute. When this breathing rate decreases progressively, the condition is termed as Bradypnea; medically it is when the breathing rate drops below 12 breaths in every minute, it is Bradypnea. The underlying cause of bradypnea can be a huge range of medical conditions like heart problems, thyroid disorders, brain disorders, etc.

What is Bradypnea?

What is Bradypnea?

Bradypnea or Bradypnoea is abnormally slow or reduced rate of breathing. It is characterized as less than 12 breaths per minute for an individual aged between 12 and 50 years. Bradypnea indicates the person is not consuming adequate amounts of oxygen during breathing. This condition generally occurs due to a number of underlying medical conditions that needs to be taken care of.

Causes of Bradypnea

There are actually various causes of Bradypnea such as anything, which disrupts the normal breathing rate of an individual including:

  • Hypothyroidism: In this case, the thyroid gland located around the neck region produces minimal or no amounts of thyroid hormones affecting various body metabolisms and also disturbs the normal breathing rate leading to Bradypnea.
  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea: People suffering from obstructive sleep apnea generally experience decreased breathing rate. During sleep, usually the muscles of the air passage relax which may collapse suddenly resulting in low breathing frequency. Therefore, the recurrent episodes of bradypnea can occur.
  • Bradypnea as an Effect of Narcotics: These drugs often cause mood-altering effects and thus induce an euphoric feeling by affecting the nervous system adversely. These drugs also slow down the brain performance and thereby the respiratory center situated at the base of the brain also gets affected in functioning and decreases the respiratory rate. Likewise, alcohol can also cause breathlessness or shortness of breath.
  • Brain Diseases: Certain brain disorders such as clots or tumor in the brain affecting the normal functioning of the brain, results in reducing the oxygen supply to the medulla oblongata and the cerebral cortex that controls the respiratory center resulting in Bradypnea.
  • Cardiac Problems: Lower heart rate can also cause the occurrence of Bradypnea. When the pumping activity of the heart gets obstructed due to heart attack, degeneration of cardiac tissues, or congenital defects, the breathing rate gets reduced. As the heart and the lungs are connected by pulmonary veins and arteries; therefore, the heart problems can lead to breathing troubles.
  • Other Causes Include –
    • Hypertension or high blood pressure.
    • Heart tissue infection also referred to as myocarditis that occurs due to complication in heart surgery.
    • Old age.
    • Electrolyte imbalance.
    • Smoking.
    • Inflammatory disease, such as rheumatic or lupus fever.
    • Obesity.
    • Accumulation of iron in the organs by the process of hemochromatosis.
    • Hepatic failure.
    • Medications such as pills for other heart rhythm disorders or for high blood pressure and even certain pain medications may also lower the respiratory rate and leads to Bradypnea.

Symptoms of Bradypnea

An individual may show the following symptoms if they are experiencing bradypnea:

  • Lightheadedness.
  • Fatigue.
  • Faint fits or near-fainting.
  • Lethargic or weakness.
  • Chest discomfort or pains.
  • Breathlessness or shortness of breath.
  • Abnormally low breathing rate is also a symptom of bradypnea.
  • Confusion or memory impairment.
  • Feeling of exhaustion easily at the time of any physical activity can be a symptom of bradypnea.
  • Diabetic ketoacidosis.
  • Hepatic failure.
  • Increased intracranial pressure.
  • Respiratory failure.
  • Dandy-Walker Syndrome.

Prevalence Rate of Bradypnea

Bradypnea normally effects near about 200,000 people every year in the western countries. This ailment is quite common among the general world population.

Risk Factors in Bradypnea

The risk factors involved in the development of bradypnea include the following:

  • High blood pressure.
  • Age.
  • Smoking habit.
  • Heavy consumption of alcohol.
  • Heart problems.
  • Usage of recreational drugs.
  • Psychological anxiety, stress, or tension.

Complications of Bradypnea

A severe drop in the rate of breathing or an enormously slow breathing may significantly affect or decrease the alveolar ventilation and leads to the following complications:

  • Hypoxemia or a condition when there is an insufficiency in the delivery of oxygen in the blood.
  • Hypercapnia or a condition when there is an increase in the amount of carbon dioxide in the blood.
  • Respiratory acidosis is a state characterized by a disproportion in the level of acid-base balance causing alveolar hypoventilation.

If bradypnea is severe enough to cause symptoms like the slowing of heart rate, it can cause further complications as follows:

  • Frequent spells of fainting.
  • The heart is incapable in pumping adequate blood or even heart failure.
  • Sudden death or cardiac arrest.

Individuals suffering from bradypnea may usually suffer a compromised respiratory system resulting in dysfunction or damage. A compromised respiratory system associated with bradypnea are possibly life-threatening and can cause potential damages in other body organs due to the deprivation of oxygen resulting from the interference in the pumping action of the heart.

Diagnosis of Bradypnea

Generally, the respiration rate varies from person to person. Bradypnea is determined mainly by the rate of breathing with the age of an individual and the complete health status.

Usually, the respiratory rate is calculated as the total number of breaths taken within 60 seconds or a minute. The measurement of breath should be counted when an individual is in resting position. The number of breath depends on every elevation of the chest with the normal process of respiration. The diagnosis of bradypnea can be done through physical examination along with a respiratory count of the individual. Medical history is also obtained to detect the underlying reason of the condition. An ECG or electrocardiogram may also be done to check the normal rhythm and function of the heart.

Other blood tests are also performed to determine the underlying conditions that may be responsible for bradypnea such as hypothyroidism, electrolytic imbalance, or any infection. If sleep apnea is assumed to be the contributing factor for bradypnea, then different tests are done to monitor the sleep of an individual.

Treatment of Bradypnea

Urgent treatment for Bradypnea is the artificial respiration, which supplies sufficient amount of oxygen into the body system for an individual. Besides, other treatment options can usually range from surgery to correcting risky intracranial pressure. Many patients may need to follow rehab program in order to correct addiction problems. The treatment of Bradypnea basically depends on the underlying cause, age and health status of the patient. Once the respiratory rate is properly corrected, the underlying cause needs to be found and treated.

If the bradypnea patient is suffering from medical conditions such as kidney failure, liver failure or brain tumor, then those conditions need to be treated first. Sometimes, the complications can also be cured by reducing medicine doses.

A Pacemaker is also sometime implanted under the collarbone by the surgical method to supervise the heartbeat and control the rate of breathing. Surgery is the final option for bradypnea and is performed only when the intracranial pressure is extremely high.

Prognosis of Bradypnea

Bradypnea mainly involves the respiratory system and its effect is quite noticeable on the health condition of an individual. Although the treatment for bradypnea is well progressive, but the patients suffering from certain pulmonary diseases, especially adults with chronic pulmonary disease together with bradypnea are at a high risk of having potential damage to the other organs of the body due to severe lack of oxygen supply to the blood and tissue.

Prevention of Bradypnea

The following steps are the probable way to prevent bradypnea:

  • Maintain a Proper Body Weight: Obesity can increase the risk of developing heart disease. So, try to maintain healthy body weight in order to prevent bradypnea.
  • Quit Smoking to Prevent Bradypnea: Follow different strategies that can help in breaking the smoking habit as smoking can be an active contributor towards the development of bradypnea.
  • Controlling Cholesterol and Blood Pressure: Try to follow a healthy lifestyle and take prescribed medications to correct high cholesterol or high blood pressure.
  • Diet and Exercise: One can prevent bradypnea by keeping the heart healthy by exercising regularly and consuming a low-fat diet that is rich in whole grains, green vegetables, and fruits.
  • Avoid Recreational Drugs: Try to avoid recreational drug by seeking the help of various programs or medical practitioner to prevent the occurrence of bradypnea.
  • Regulate Drinking Habit: Try to quit drinking habit. If you can’t, then try to control alcohol consumption by limiting it to a moderate level. It is also recommended to consult a physician for specific advice to manage behaviors-related alcohol abuse.
  • Scheduled Checkups: Regular physical exams and a scheduled checkup can reduce the risk of developing Bradypnea.
  • Control Stress to Prevent Bradypnea: Avoid unnecessary tension, anxiety, and stress and learn to handle those situations in a more healthy way.


Generally, when an individual sleeps or rest, the breathing rate slows down but if the breathing rate decreases even when the body is in the active state, the condition is referred to as Bradypnea. With this slow rate of respiration, the body does not get sufficient supply of oxygen. This may result in a huge number of complications in the long run and in severe case, it can be fatal if not treated immediately with artificial respiration system.

Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:July 20, 2017

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