Types of Breathing for Nurses. Self Learn Series

This article is written for students in year two of their BNURSE progarm of a major university. It describes the different types of respirations seen in pathological situations. Knowing the breathing pattern is helpful in being able to deal with it. Also it is easier to communicate the patient’s condition (acuity) to other members of the treatment team if you can describe the patient’s breathing accurately. The graphic representations are of the author. This article is not suitable reading for individuals who are not comfortable with terminal stages of life.

This article is written for Nurses, by a Lecturer in Health Sciences. It describes the different types of respirations nurses see frequently in the Hospital situations. Respirations indicate the severity of illness and are often helpful in assessing the patients overall condition. This article will be useful for care givers and medical students as well. The diagrammatic representations are copyrighted materials of this author.

In this article the following are discussed and explained – Iron lungs, normal respiration, Bradypnea, Tachypnea, Kussmaul’s respirations, Biot’s respirations, Cheyne-stokes Respirations, apnea and respiratory arrest.

The ordinary word for respiration is breathing. Respiration is the movement of air from the exterior of the patient to the interior. Strictly speaking, this is called external respiration. Internal respiration is the metabolic process at cell level, equated with (combustion) because during this process oxygen is combined with carbohydrates to produce energy. Heat is a by-product of metabolism. During metabolism, energy is created for use by muscles for functions of life.

For optimal external respiration to occur, the patient must be placed in the optimal position for him/her. Patient positions are discussed in another article. The hyperlink is attached. Shergill , diagrams of the different positions are also available at that site.

Normal inspiration occurs because muscle activity, maily contraction, changes the volume of the intrathoracic cavity. When the volume increased, the pressure is decreased. The decreased pressure on the interior forces the air from the exterior to enter the lungs until the two pressures become roughly equal. At this point the stretch receptors stop the lung from expanding any further, in fact, the intercostal muscles relax. By recoil the pressure on the interior increses and expel air to the exterior. Normal tidal volumes and other respiratory parameters are found here. Iron lungs worked be decreasing the pressure on the outside, thereby lifting the rib cage to decrease the intra thoracid pressure.

Picture 1. Patient inside iron lungs for external respiration (victim of polio).
Iron lungs are now redundant. They have been replaced by high tech ventilators.

In the hospital environment, Nurses are the eyes and ears of the treatment team because they are with the patient all the time and usually know the patient best. As the patients condition changes so will his respiration. A brief description of the different types of respiration is given below. The normal respiratory rate is 12 to 18 breaths per minute. During each breath cycle the air moves in and out of the lungs quietly. The rib case rises and falls. There will also be some movement of the diaphragm, and abdominal region.

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  1. Thank you for referring me to this site during the lectures. This summary of breathing types is better than in the recommended text, Jarvis, Physical health assessmetn

  2. Thank You for posting this nice comment.
    There are other lectures too.
    You will need to follow Shergill’s articles.

  3. the tags bring me back to the same article

  4. it aides me making my research.. thanks..
    nice discussions but every type o breathing should’ve their corresponding patterns to illustrate well. anyway, thanks.

  5. Good Day Jeneth,

    I am so proud of your suggestion. When I was writing this article, the suggestion you have made did come to mind. Yes, I will make the necessary improvement.

    Thank You for being honest.


  6. Thank you all for providing an excellent text .
    Thank you again.

  7. Good Day Upendra Yadav,

    It is great to hear from you! All the way from NEPAL.
    Did you know that you too can write articles like this.
    I was born just a little south of where you are, in the Punjab.
    I now live in Darwin, I teach quite a few students from NEPAL. They are always hard working.

  8. this site is very im ready for my NCM class tomorrow! thanks a lot..=)

  9. Those types of breathing are not the only one as their Hyperventilation,dyspnea,biots respiration,apnea.But u guys are really doing some nice work,thanks alot.

  10. good

  11. It’s really helpfull.

  12. HI Angelnurse,

    Thank You for reading the article on types of breathing. I appreciate your comments. It is motivating for me. Sometimes, students forget that lecturers are human beings too!
    I would appreciate suggestions to improove these notes.

  13. Hello Neha,
    Thank you for reading and commenting on my article. I am Indian too it makes me feel good that I am able to help students like yourself.

    Good Luck. Life as a Nurse is GREAT. With my nursing qualifications I was able to travel the world.

    Born in India, grew up in Malaysia, educated in Scotland, worked in UK, Canada, US and Australia. I am planning on retiring in New Zealand.

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