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Breathing - slowed or stopped

Respiration slowed or stopped; Not breathing; Respiratory arrest; Apnea

Breathing that stops from any cause is called apnea. Slowed breathing is called bradypnea. Labored or difficult breathing is known as dyspnea.

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Considerations

Apnea can come and go and be temporary. This can occur with obstructive sleep apnea, for example.

Prolonged apnea means a person has stopped breathing. If the heart is still active, the condition is known as respiratory arrest. This is a life-threatening event that requires immediate medical attention and first aid.

Prolonged apnea with no heart activity in a person who is not responsive is called cardiac (or cardiopulmonary) arrest. In infants and children, the most common cause of cardiac arrest is respiratory arrest. In adults, the opposite usually occurs, cardiac arrest most often leads to respiratory arrest.

Causes

Breathing difficulty can occur for many reasons. In most cases, the most common causes of apnea in infants and small children are different from the most common causes in adults.

Common causes of breathing difficulties in infants and young children include:

Common causes of breathing trouble (dyspnea) in adults include:

Other causes of apnea include:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Seek immediate medical attention or call your local emergency number (such as 911) if a person with any type of breathing problem:

If a person has stopped breathing, call for emergency help and perform CPR (if you know how). When in a public place, look for an automated external defibrillator (AED) and follow the directions.

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

CPR or other emergency measures will be done in an emergency room or by an ambulance emergency medical technician (EMT) or paramedic.

Once the person is stable, the health care provider will do a physical exam, which includes listening to heart sounds and breath sounds.

Questions will be asked about the person's medical history and symptoms, including:

TIME PATTERN

RECENT HEALTH HISTORY

Diagnostic tests and treatments that may be done include:

Related Information

Obstructive sleep apnea - adults

References

Kelly A-M. Respiratory emergencies. In: Cameron P, Jelinek G, Kelly A-M, Brown A, Little M, eds. Textbook of Adult Emergency Medicine. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2015:chap 6.

Kurz MC, Neumar RW. Adult resuscitation. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 8.

Roosevelt GE. Pediatric respiratory emergencies: diseases of the lungs. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 169.

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Review Date: 1/12/2019  

Reviewed By: Jesse Borke, MD, FACEP, FAAEM, Attending Physician at FDR Medical Services/Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital, Buffalo, NY. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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