Tachypnea: Causes and Symptoms

Tachypnea, also known as polypnea, is a medical condition characterized by an accelerated breathing rate. This guide aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of tachypnea, its causes, and associated symptoms.

What is Tachypnea?

Tachypnea refers to an increased breathing rate, typically exceeding the normal range of 16-20 breaths per minute for healthy adults. In severe cases, the breathing rate can escalate to 40-60 breaths per minute. This condition is often accompanied by an increased heart rate and feelings of fatigue and shortness of breath. Tachypnea can occur when the body requires enhanced pulmonary ventilation to speed up alveolar gas exchange.

Physiological and Pathological Causes

Tachypnea can be a result of intense and prolonged physical exertion, which is a physiological cause. However, it can also be a symptom of various pathological conditions. These include feverish states, sepsis, metabolic acidosis, pneumonia, embolism, and pulmonary infarction. Tachypnea can also occur due to the presence of food in the respiratory tract or the inhalation of toxic substances, such as in the case of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Heart failure, alterations in the nerve centers that control breathing, tetanic crisis, anxiety, and respiratory distress syndrome can also lead to tachypnea. It is also observed in painful manifestations of the pleura or chest wall, such as multiple rib fractures. In such cases, the individual compensates for the decreased depth of breathing with an increased frequency to minimize chest movement.

In children, an increased respiratory rate can be a symptom of meconium aspiration syndrome and acute infectious bronchopneumonia.

Common and Rare Causes

Tachypnea can be a common symptom of various diseases such as cardiac arrest, asbestosis, COPD, bronchiolitis, alcoholic ketoacidosis, diabetic ketoacidosis, heat stroke, croup, cor pulmonale, pulmonary edema, pulmonary embolism, pheochromocytoma, heart failure, respiratory failure, melioidosis, pericarditis, aspiration pneumonia, sepsis, septic shock, meconium aspiration syndrome, Brugada syndrome, cardiac tumors, and duodenal ulcer.

Rare causes of tachypnea include metabolic acidosis, anxiety, esophageal atresia, bronchiectasis, disseminated intravascular coagulation, cholera, atrial septal defect, respiratory distress, Ebola, embolism, hemosiderosis, infective endocarditis, non-infectious endocarditis, cystic fibrosis, pregnancy, ectopic pregnancy, pulmonary infarction, ingestion of caustic substances, carbon monoxide poisoning, malignant hyperthermia, histoplasmosis, melioidosis, pancreatitis, pneumonia, silicosis, decompression syndrome, Pickwickian syndrome, and tetanus.

Tachypnea can be a symptom of a wide range of diseases and conditions, both common and rare. Therefore, it is crucial to consult healthcare professionals if you observe an increased breathing rate in yourself or others. They can provide a more accurate interpretation of symptoms and guide you towards appropriate medical intervention. This guide is intended to enhance understanding of tachypnea and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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