Description, Causes and Risk Factors:

Tachypnea is a common sign of cardiopulmonary disorders. It is an abnormally fast respiratory rate - greater than 20 BPM. Tachypnea may reflect the need to increase minute volume - the amount of air breathed each minute. Under these circumstances, it may be accompanied by an increase in tidal volume - the volume of air inhaled or exhaled per breath - resulting in hyperventilation. Tachypnea, however, may also reflect stiff lungs or overloaded ventilatory muscles, in which case tidal volume may actually be reduced.

Tachypnea is often used as a clinical marker for pneumonia in patients of all ages. For children, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends age-specific definitions of tachypnea: age <2 months, respiratory rate (RR) 60 breaths per minute (BPM); 2-12 months, RR 50 BPM; 1-5 years, RR 40 BPM.

Tachypnea may have physiological or pathological causes. Both of these categories would include large lists of individual causes. For example, physiological causes of tachypnea include exercise and labor during pregnancy. Amongst pathophysiological causes, tachypnea can be a symptom of carbon monoxide [CO] poisoning in which oxygen delivery to the tissues and organs is blocked causing hypoxia and direct cellular injury.

Tachypnea is also present in pleuritis, inflammation of pleura, inflammation of diaphragm, several types of intoxication etc. Actually, in almost each condition that includes damaging respiratory system in any possible way (physical trauma, infection, both viral and bacterial, inflammation, psychological conditions such as panic attack, intensive physical activity etc.) tachypnea occurs. The only situation when tachypnea is normal and does not need therapy is while exercising, because when exercise is finished, breathing will slowly return to a normal state. Trained, professional sportsmen need a lot more physical exertion in order for tachypnea to start.

Risk Factors:

    Cardiovascular risk factors (pulmonary embolism, CHF, AMI, HTN).

  • Pulmonary risk factors (COPD, asthma, pneumothorax, restrictive lung disease).

  • Metabolic/toxicologic etiologies (diabetic ketoacidosis, dehydration, salicylate toxicity, acidosis).

  • Neurologic risk factors (CVA, head trauma).

  • Anxiety/hyperventilation (panic attack).

  • Sepsis.

  • Hyperthyroidism.

  • Certain medications/drugs.

This condition is more prevalent in newborns in the US. Almost 10-20% of infants are affected with it. Tachypnea in infants requires special monitoring and hospital treatment for full recovery with no permanent complications.


Symptoms may include:

    Flaring of the nasal cavity.

  • Labored breathing (more than 60 BPM).

  • Cyanosis (the skin around the mouth and nose turns gets bluish).

  • Grunt during exhalation.

  • Retractions with each and every breath.

  • Bronchial asthma happens because of obstruction in breathing pathways, which is fortunately, reversible.

  • Sometime patient cannot speak.

  • Dyspnea.

  • Whizzing.

  • Coughing.

  • Tachycardia.

  • Systolic paradox, which is decreased blood pressure in the inhale stage of breathing.


After detecting tachypnea, quickly evaluate cardiopulmonary status. Check the patient's vital signs and oxygen saturation level, and then check for cyanosis, chest pain, dyspnea, tachycardia, and hypotension. If the patient has paradoxical chest movement, suspect flail chest. Be alert for sign of respiratory failure.

If the patient's condition permits, obtain a medical history.

    Find out when the tachypnea began.

  • Did it follow activity?

  • Has it had before?

  • Does the patient have a history of asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [COPD] or any other pulmonary or cardiac conditions?

  • Have him describe other signs and symptoms, such as diaphoresis, chest pain, and recent weight loss. Is he anxious about anything, or does he have a history of anxiety attacks?

  • Does he seem restless, confused, or fatigued?

Begin physical examination by obtaining the patient's vital signs, including oxygen saturation, and by observing his overall behavior. Then auscultate the chest for abnormal heart and breath sounds. If the patient has productive cough, record the color, amount, and consistency of sputum. Finally, check for jugular vein distention, and examine the skin for pallor, cyanosis, edema, and warmth or coolness.

Other Tests:

    X-ray: If an infant is suffering from tachycardia tachypnea, an X-ray image of the lungs would reveal its blotched condition and easily locate the fluid. A radiograph of the chest will rule out all the probable causes for any respiratory disorder.

  • Pulse-oximetry monitoring: In this method, a piece of tape is attached around the hand or foot of the baby and then linked with the monitor. The piece of tape includes an oxygen sensor. This method helps the doctors to analyze the competency of the lungs in sending oxygen to the blood. It is also vital in administering tachycardia tachypnea. Oxygen level should be tested and checked with the help of a blood test, which include CBC, blood gas determination, blood culture for any infection.


Treatment depends on the cause of tachypnea, meaning that the underlying condition has to be treated first, in order to subdue tachypnea and return the breathing process into a normal state. With this said there are numerous treatments and therapies, each one being different and specialized in dealing with the mentioned underlying cause. Of course, if the underlying condition is serious and dangerous, tachypnea has to be subdued quickly and effectively.

NOTE: The above information is educational purpose. The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition.

DISCLAIMER: This information should not substitute for seeking responsible, professional medical care.


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