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Breath rate

Last reviewed dd mmm yyyy. Last edited dd mmm yyyy

Authoring team

Respiratory rate in adults

  • evidence suggests that an adult with a respiratory rate of over 20 breaths/minute is probably unwell, and an adult with a respiratory rate of over 24 breaths/minute is likely to be critically ill

It has been suggested that (1):

  • respiratory rate and other vital signs should be measured more frequently in patients who are unstable, or in adult patients whose respiratory rate is greater than 20 breaths/minute;

  • adult general ward patients with a respiratory rate greater than 24 breaths/minute should be monitored closely and reviewed regularly
    • even if the other vital signs are normal; a patient with a respiratory rate greater than 27 breaths/minute should receive immediate medical review;

  • and patients with a respiratory rate greater than 24 breaths/minute, in combination with other evidence of physiological instability (eg, hypotension or a reduced level of consciousness), should also receive immediate medical review.

Notes:

  • Fieselmann and colleagues reported that a respiratory rate higher than 27 breaths/minute was the most important predictor of cardiac arrest in hospital wards (2)

Respiratory rates in children (3)

Age

Respiratory rate (breaths per minute)

<1

30-40

1-2

25-35

2-5

25-30

5-12

20-25

>12

15-20

 

Reference:

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