Bradypnea is an abnormally slow breathing rate, defined as less than 12 breaths a minute for people between the ages of 12 and 50. Breathing rates vary for older adults and younger children. When a patient has bradypnea, it suggests that the patient may not be getting enough oxygen, and can be a sign of an underlying medical issue that needs to be addressed. A variety of care providers can be involved in the diagnostic process to determine why a patient is breathing more slowly than usual.
One reason for a patient to be breathing slowly is because he or she is asleep. Bradypnea is normal when people are sleeping, as the body as a whole slows down. However, in someone who is awake, a slowed respiratory rate is usually a sign of a problem unless the person is doing breathing exercises that may involve slowing and deepening the breaths.
A common cause of bradypnea is sedation. Sedative drugs can lower the respiratory rate, as can substances like alcohol, which can have a depressive effect on the respiratory system. People who abuse opiates and opioids can also develop bradypnea. Another cause is a tumor in the brain or high intercranial pressure that impacts the areas of the brain involved in the regulation of breathing. Certain metabolic disorders can also be involved in bradypnea.
Patients can also develop respiratory decompensation, where the respiratory system is damaged or compromised and does not work as effectively as it should. This is common in older adults, as their bodies wear down and it can also occur in people with chronic lung conditions and conditions involving the nervous system. Another cause of bradypnea is renal failure. All of these causes can be dangerous, not just because they limit supplies of oxygen by slowing breathing, but also because they can endanger other organ systems in the body.
Immediate treatment for bradynea can involve giving a patient supplemental oxygen. In the long term, a care provider needs to find out what is causing the slow breathing and address that. Treatments can include everything from surgery to address dangerously high intercranial pressure, to a stay in a rehabilitation program for a patient with an addiction problem. If a patient has a condition that increases the risk of bradypnea, such as kidney failure or a brain tumor, care providers may be advised to monitor the patient carefully for signs of slowed and labored breathing.