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This article may contain information on medical procedures that are not recommended or endorsed by Catholic Health Partners. Promotion of this topic is prohibited by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Services. In the Ethical and Religious Directives, Catholic health institutions are prohibited from condoning contraceptive practices. Married couples should be given information about natural family planning as well as the church’s teachings on responsible parenthood. The information in this article is designed for educational purposes only. It is not provided as a professional service or as medical advice for specific patients.

Rapid shallow breathing

Alternative Names

Tachypnea; Breathing - rapid and shallow; Fast shallow breathing; Respiratory rate - rapid and shallow

Definition

A normal breathing rate for an adult at rest is 8 to 16 breaths per minute. For an infant, a normal rate is up to 44 breaths per minute. Tachypnea is the medical term that your doctor uses to describe your breathing if it is too fast, particularly if you have rapid, shallow breathing due to an associated lung disease or other medical cause.

In contrast, the term hyperventilation is usually used if you are taking rapid, deep breaths because of anxiety or panic. The terms are sometimes used interchangeaby.

Considerations

Common Causes

Shallow, rapid breathing has many potential medical causes. A partial list includes:

Home Care

Rapid, shallow breathing should not be treated at home and is generally considered a medical emergency.

If you have asthma or COPD, then use your inhaler medications as prescribed by your doctor. You may still need to be checked by a health care provider right away. Your doctor will explain when it is important to go to the emergency room.

Call your health care provider if

Call your doctor right away or go to the emergency room if you are breathing rapidly, especially if you have:

  • Chest pain
  • Fever
  • Never had rapid breathing before
  • Shortness of breath

What to expect at your health care provider's office

The health care provider will do a thorough exam of your heart, lungs, abdomen, and head and neck.

Tests that may be ordered include:

Treatment will depend on the underlying cause of the rapid breathing. Treatment may include oxygen if your oxygen level is too low and nebulized respiratory treatments if you are having an asthma attack.

References

Simel DL. Approach to the patient: history and physical examination. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 6.

Schriger DL. Approach to the patient with abnormal vital signs. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 7.

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    Review Date: 5/21/2009

    Review By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

    The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- 2010 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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