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Paediatric respiratory rate ranges

Last reviewed dd mmm yyyy. Last edited dd mmm yyyy

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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.


  • 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)


Respiratory rate (breaths per minute)













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