Respiratory rate – the neglected vital sign

Man preparing himself before the rope training.
According to research, respiratory rate is often not recorded in many hospitals when other vital signs are, and yet there is evidence that an abnormal respiratory rate “is the most significant predictor of critical illness”. Research conducted by Birmingham City Hospital confirmed that respiratory rate is an early indicator of physiological deterioration and should be recorded along with other vital signs in patients arriving at Accident and Emergency. NICE guidelines for Recognising and responding to acute illness in adults in hospital state that as a minimum respiratory rate should be one of the physiological observations recorded at initial assessment and as part of routine monitoring.

What is a normal respiratory rate? 

According to the EWS System used (Early Warning Systems), normal respiratory rate is 9 – 14 breaths per minute. In 1993 a report revealed that a respiratory rate higher than 27 breaths per minute was the most important predictor of cardiac arrest in hospital wards. When recording respiratory rate as a vital sign, it’s recommended that depth of breathing also be recorded as either ‘shallow breathing’, normal breathing’, or ‘deep breathing’, along with whether accessory muscles are used, such as the neck tightening (the “look, “listen” and “feel” approach to respiratory assessment).

The importance of your respiratory rate

If breathing rate is widely accepted as a vital clinical parameter, then it could be assumed to be a partial indicator of your level of health and fitness. The number of breaths you take per minute is a sign of how often your brain is telling your body to breathe. The ‘normal respiratory rate’ is a guideline that will have been measured by taking an average of the whole research. Your own respiratory rate can be measured by counting the number of times your chest rises and falls within one minute, and this rate will change based on activity level and age.  Because your breathing is automatic and you breathe without really thinking about it, when you come to measure your breathing rate you may notice that you don’t breathe ‘normally’, simply because you’ll be particularly conscious and aware of how you’re breathing. So it’s better to have a healthcare professional check it for you, as he/she is trained to measure your respiratory rate, sometimes without you even realising it.

Control the way you breathe

Although your breathing is automatic and you make no real conscious effort to breathe (unless you suffer with breathing difficulties), you may think that you can’t influence how you breathe. But you can. POWERbreathe Inspiratory Muscle Training (IMT) provides a physical solution to helping you make a conscious effort to control your breathing. POWERbreathe could help you to control your breathing rate as it teaches you to breathe in deeply and more fully, and it strengthens your breathing muscles. Exhaling is then performed in your normal manner. This combination of a deep, full breath which you then exhale at a more natural rate could help slow down your rate of breathing.

Your personalised respiratory coach

The POWERbreathe K-Series is ideal for personalised respiratory coaching and is completely adaptable, comfortable to use and includes breathing pacing guidance which helps you breathe at an appropriate rate. What makes the K-Series so adaptable and suitable for virtually everyone, are its features, which include:
  1. Auto Adjustment: Automatically estimates your load requirements based upon the first two un-loaded breaths of each training session. This takes the guess work out of where to start and how quickly to progress.
  2. Manual Adjustment: For those who prefer greater control, this allows you to set and adjust the training load and training intensity yourself.
  3. Resistance Loads: 5 – 200 cmH2O i.e. Very Light; Light; Moderate; Hard; Very Hard.

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