When you don't feel right but you don't quite know why, there are two questions that often come to mind: how is my blood pressure? And what is my heart rate? But there is a third that is just as important, if not more: the proper breathing rate.
What is my respiratory rate?
Respiratory rate is defined as the number of breaths you take in an average minute.
The speed of breathing is very important to predict serious medical illness or events, but studies confirm that it is not measured as much as it should, which is why it is called the "ignored vital sign".
How is your respiratory rate measured?
The normal respiratory rate varies according to your gender and age; for instance, respiratory rate is must faster in newborns than young children, and it's lower yet in adults. In addition, women have a higher respiratory rate than men. According to the health site, the normal respiratory rhythms, according to the age, are the following:
- Newborn (up to 12 months): 30 to 60 breaths per minute.
- Infant (from year to 3 years): from 24 to 40 breaths per minute.
- Preschool (from 3 to 6 years): from 22 to 34 breaths per minute.
- School (6 to 13 years): 18 to 30 breaths per minute.
- Adolescents and adults (13 years and over): 12 to 18 breaths per minute.
To measure your respiratory rate, you must be at rest: it is evident that someone who has just done physical exercise will have a higher respiratory rate than someone who has been sitting down for a while.
To see if there is a problem with breathing, look at the muscles of your neck. Do they strain when you breathe? In addition, you can look for other signs. Are you uncomfortable? Does your breathing make odd sounds? Are you in the middle of a panic or anxiety attack?
What your breathing says about your health...
Basically, the number of breaths per minute is an indicator of your brain activity: that is, to what extent you are sending the signal that the body activates the breathing mechanism.
If oxygen levels in the blood are low, the brain will tell the body to breathe more frequently to ventilate the body. This happens, for example, in cases of a severe infection, which increases the amount of carbon dioxide produced in the body (even if the oxygen level is normal, the presence of carbon dioxide in the blood puts the brain on alert) .
The opposite may also occur: some drugs (whether for medical or illegal use) interfere with the brain's response, so it may occur that you breathe less than necessary. This can also happen when there are head injuries, a heart attack or damage to the center of the brain that controls this action.
The meaning of a high frequency respiratory rate
For children, while a higher respiratory frequency is often a cause of concern for parents it may actually be normal. In adults, not so much. High frequency breathing in adults is defined as 20 breaths per minute. If there are 24 or more breaths per minute, the body is going through a serious crisis. Some causes of increased breathing are related to the lungs, but not all. Here are some of the common causes.
- Fever. During an episode of fever, the body will try to lose heat through faster breathing. The respiratory rate is believed to increase from 5 to 7 breaths per minute per degree Celsius in children. It is important to keep this in mind because a higher increase than that could be a sign that the infection is getting worse.
- Asthma. While a person suffers from an asthma attack, it is normal for the respiratory rate to increase. Attention should be paid to respiratory changes, since a small increase may be a sign that the attack is worsening.
- Hyperventilation. People can breathe faster when they are in situations of high stress, physical pain, anger or panic or anxiety attacks.
- Pulmonary diseases. Pulmonary embolisms (blood clots that form in the legs as a result of poor circulation, and travel to the lungs in the bloodstream) and lung cancer are two common diseases that cause an increase in respiratory rate. In newborns, tachypnea can occur when the lungs have not finished emptying of fluid, but this condition is usually resolved when the baby gets older.
- Heart diseases. Increased respiratory rate is often found in patients with heart disease.
- Overdose. Overdose of some drugs, such as aspirin and amphetamines, can cause an increase in respiratory rate
What if your respiratory rate is low?
On the other hand, your respiratory rate can also decrease as a result of health conditions or medications. A low respiratory rate is defined below 12 breaths per minute. It is important to pay special attention to this in children, since a reduced rate may be even higher than the normal adult rhythm. These are some factors that can decrease the respiratory rate.
- Use of narcotics. Some narcotic medications can reduce the number of breaths per minute.
- Alcohol. Respiratory rhythm may also be diminished by the consumption of alcoholic beverages.
- Metabolism. To balance the effects of abnormal metabolic processes on the body, it can begin to breathe less.
- Sleep apnea. People who often have episodes of sleep apnea may experience them together with a decrease or increase in respiratory rate.
- Damage to the brain. Infections and head injuries can result in a decreased respiratory rate.
Certainly, changes in respiratory rate are a valid reason to call the doctor, so if you notice elevations or decreases in respiratory rate, you should check with your doctor about this often overlooked vital sign!