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What is Respiratory Arrest

Respiratory arrest cases occur when a patient has a pulse but is not breathing normally. A reliable sign of inadequate breaths is when breathing attempts do not produce a visible chest rise and fall. Agonal respirations are often mistaken for breathing. Since no air goes in and there is no chest rise and fall, agonal respirations are not breaths.

Respirations are effective only if enough volume of air is inspired so that oxygen can be circulated to the brain and vital organs, along with enough volume of air expelled so that CO2 is removed.

A key element for respiratory problems is to recognize respiratory distress and treat it early to prevent respiratory arrest.

Signs and Symptoms of Respiratory Arrest

Signs of distress include:

  • Pale, cool skin
  • Changes in level of consciousness or agitation
  • Increased respiratory effort
  • Nasal flaring
  • Use of abdominal muscles to assist in breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Tachypnea (fast breathing)
  • Bradypnea (slow breathing)

A normal breathing rate for an adult is 12-16 breaths per minute. Respiratory rates less than 6 breaths a minute require a provider to assist with ventilations with a bag valve mask, basic airway, or advanced airway with 100% oxygen.  

Tools such as capnography and an oxygen saturation monitor can help to determine if enough oxygen is being delivered. Although oxygen is important for a patient in respiratory distress or arrest, more is not always better.  Excessive ventilation can reduce venous return and decrease cardiac output.