Normal respiratory rate in adults and children.


If you have respiratory symptoms, you can ask, "What is the normal respiratory rate?" Let's start by talking about the normal range of respiratory rates for adults and children, how to accurately measure this rate, and what it means if the rate is abnormal.

Get Medical Information / Jessica Olah

What does respiratory rate mean?

Respiratory rate is defined as the number of breaths a person takes during a one minute period of rest. Normal values are for people at rest. The respiratory rate generally increases with exercise.

The number of breaths we take per minute is a sign of how often our brain tells our body to breathe. If the level of oxygen in the blood is low or if the level of carbon dioxide in the blood is high, our body must breathe more frequently.

For example, a severe infection increases the body's production of carbon dioxide, so even with normal blood oxygen levels, the brain signals the body to breathe more frequently to remove carbon dioxide.

But there are times when this system does not work as well, such as when people are being treated with medications. These drugs actually slow the brain's response to blood signals, so someone may breathe less often than necessary. It can also occur with a head injury or stroke that damages the respiratory center of the brain .

Recent studies show that accurate recording of respiratory rate very important in predicting serious medical events. Research also shows that respiratory rate measurements aren't taken as often as they should, which is why it was invented. v 'Ignore the vital sign.

Abnormal respiratory rate

Both increased and decreased breathing rates can be a sign that something is wrong with the body. The abnormal respiratory rate is quite nonspecific, which means that there are many reasons for the fast and slow rates.

Health professionals use several terms to describe abnormal respiratory rates, including:

  • Bradypnea is the medical term used to define abnormally slow breathing.
  • Tachypnea is the medical term used to describe rapid breathing. This rapid respiratory rate is usually shallow, in contrast to hyperpnea, which can be rapid and deep.
  • Shortness of breath refers to a feeling of shortness of breath and can occur with an increased, normal, or decreased rate of breathing.
  • Hyperpnea is abnormally deep breathing that appears to be difficult. This can happen with or without rapid breathing.
  • Apnea literally means "not breathing" and refers to shortness of breath.

Respiratory rate is different from feeling short of breath (shortness of breath). Sometimes the respiratory rate can affect whether someone feels short of breath or not, but in other cases it may not. They may experience shortness of breath with a very high respiratory rate and may not experience shortness of breath with a very low respiratory rate.

Measurement of respiratory rate

Respiratory rate is measured by counting the number of breaths a person takes in one minute. Since many factors can influence the results, it is very important to understand how to make accurate measurements.

Speed should be measured at rest, not after someone has stood up and walked.

Knowing that their breath is being counted can make the results inaccurate, as people often change their breathing patterns if they know they are being watched. Nurses can overcome this problem by discreetly counting the number of breaths and observing how many times the chest rises and falls, often while pretending to measure your heart rate.

However, healthcare providers should be aware that one study found that the observed respiratory rate (the rate measured when the patient knew it was being measured) was, on average, 2.13 breaths per minute slower .

Several other markers of respiratory disease can also be observed during the recording of the respiratory rate.

  • Is your patient or loved one uncomfortable?
  • Do your neck muscles tense when you breathe? (Health professionals call this " using accessory muscles " for breathing.)
  • Do you hear wheezing or other abnormal breath sounds?
  • Does the person's breathing appear to reflect pain or anxiety (such as hyperventilation, which can accompany severe pain or fear) ?

Normal values in children

Children have a higher respiratory rate than adults , and the "normal" respiratory rate can vary significantly with age. Normal respiratory rate ranges for children of different ages include:

  • Newborn: 30-60 breaths per minute.
  • Babies (1 to 12 months): 30-60 breaths per minute.
  • Young children (1-2 years): 24-40 breaths per minute
  • Preschoolers (3-5 years): 22-34 breaths per minute
  • School-age child (6-12 years): 18-30 breaths per minute.
  • Adolescents (13-17 years): 12-16 breaths per minute.

Periodic breathing in children.

Babies tend to have a much higher respiratory rate than older children and may also experience a phenomenon called intermittent breathing. With periodic breathing, a child's average respiratory rate can vary widely; You may have periods during which you breathe more slowly than usual, followed by several minutes of breathing much faster than usual.

The importance of intermittent breathing is that while it can be intimidating for parents, it is generally quite normal, unless your child has other symptoms that indicate an underlying medical condition.

Normal Values for Adults

As with children, the respiratory rate should be measured while the person is at rest, not just after actively participating in sports. In general, the respiratory rate in women is slightly higher than in men .

The average respiratory rate in a healthy adult is 12 to 18 breaths per minute.

Periodic breathing in adults

Unlike intermittent breathing in children, another type of intermittent breathing called Cheyne-Stokes respiration can be found in adults and is abnormal. It can be caused by congestive heart failure, carbon monoxide poisoning, or low blood sodium levels. (hyponatremia), at high altitude or in the last stages of death.


The normal respiratory rate in older people tends to be higher than that of younger people, especially older people in long-term care settings .

increase of the respiratory frequence

In adults, the threshold for increased respiratory rate is generally considered more than 20 breaths per minute, while a rate of more than 24 breaths per minute indicates a very serious condition (when associated with a physical condition rather than a a psychological condition). a condition such as a panic attack).

Respiratory rate is a very important indicator of vital activity. One study found that increased respiratory rate identified stable versus unstable people better than heart rate or blood pressure .


There are many reasons for high levels, some of which are related to the lungs and some of which are not. The most common causes in adults:

  • Acidosis : An increase in the acidity of the blood leads to an increase in the production of carbon dioxide and, therefore, to an increase in the respiratory rate. This can happen if a person has a condition that leads to metabolic acidosis, such as diabetes (diabetic ketoacidosis). The rapid, deep breathing seen in metabolic acidosis is called "Kussmaul's respiratory disease."
  • Asthma During an asthma attack, the respiratory rate often increases. Even a slight increase in respiratory rate can be a sign of worsening, in which case the respiratory rate should be closely monitored.
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) : Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a common cause of rapid breathing, especially in people with a history of smoking .
  • Dehydration : Dehydration itself can cause rapid breathing.
  • Fever : Rapid breathing with fever is the body's attempt to lose heat by breathing faster. This is important both because rapid breathing can be a sign of an exacerbated infection and because fever must be taken into account when interpreting respiratory rate.
  • Heart disease : One study found that increased breathing rate was a predictor of cardiac arrest in people hospitalized with heart disease.
  • Hyperventilation – People can breathe faster in response to stress, pain, anger, or during a panic attack.
  • Infections : Frequent and rare infections, such as the flu, pneumonia, and tuberculosis, can cause rapid breathing.
  • Lung disease : Conditions such as lung cancer , pulmonary embolism ( blood clots in the legs that travel to the lungs), and other lung conditions often increase the respiratory rate.
  • Overdose : An overdose of aspirin or amphetamines can increase the respiratory rate.


In newborns, common causes of rapid breathing include transient tachypnea of the newborn (TTN), a mild condition, as well as more serious conditions such as respiratory distress syndrome.


In children, the most common causes of rapid breathing are fever or dehydration. The respiratory rate in children is believed to increase by an average of 5-7 breaths per minute with an increase in body temperature by one degree Celsius.

This is not always the case in young children (under 12 months of age), and children may not experience increased breathing in response to fever and vice versa. When your respiratory rate increases, it generally increases by an average of 7-11 breaths per minute per Celsius rise in temperature.

Conditions like bronchiolitis and pneumonia are also relatively common causes. Children can also have causes of rapid breathing, as in adults, such as acidosis (in diabetes) and asthma.

Decreased respiratory rate.

A decreased respiratory rate, defined by some as less than 12 or less than 8 breaths per minute by others, can also be a sign of anxiety. Note that in children, the reduced respiratory rate can still be high compared to adults and should be interpreted based on the averages listed above.

Some of the reasons for the rate cut include:

  • Alcohol : Drinking alcoholic beverages can decrease your respiratory rate.
  • Brain disease : Brain damage, such as strokes and head injuries, often results in a decrease in your breathing rate.
  • Metabolic : the respiratory rate can be decreased to balance the effects of abnormal metabolic processes in the body.
  • Drugs – Some drugs, such as those used for medical purposes or illegally, can inhibit breathing.
  • Sleep apnea : In sleep apnea , people often have episodes of apnea and rapid breathing mixed with episodes of rapid breathing during sleep.

When to call your healthcare provider

Without a doubt, an abnormal breathing rate is a good reason to see a doctor, especially if you have a medical condition such as asthma or heart disease, as a high breathing rate alone can be a warning sign to watch out for. .

At the same time, healthcare providers need to be aware of this vital sign, which is often overlooked. One study found that measurement of respiratory rate during discharge from the emergency room was a very strong predictor of worsening after discharge.

Get the word of drug information

While many people primarily think about their heart rate or blood pressure, we learn that measuring your breathing rate is just as important, if not more important. Of course, your respiratory rate can be affected if you know that your respiratory rate is being measured, so it is important that healthcare providers learn to measure this rate in a discreet manner.

Both increased and decreased respiratory rates can be a warning sign of underlying medical conditions and should be listened to. Fortunately, portable biosensors are being developed that will hopefully lead to increased monitoring of this important vital sign.

It is important to re-emphasize the significant difference between the normal respiratory rate of adults and children. Caregivers should familiarize themselves with these ranges and know when their breathing is too fast or too slow.

Frequently asked questions

  • Try to relax the person you are measuring so that the measurement is as accurate as possible. Use a timer set for one minute to keep track of time and count how many times the chest goes up and down in a minute.

  • In addition to respiratory rate, other vital indicators are body temperature, blood pressure, and pulse. Average body temperature is 98.6 degrees, but it can vary. Average blood pressure and heart rate are 120/80 mm Hg. Art. And from 60 to 80 beats per minute, respectively.

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