How To Count Respirations

What are respirations?

Respirations are when you breathe in and out. Your respiratory, or breathing, rate is the number of times you breathe in and out in 1 minute. Most people breathe in and out 12 to 20 times every minute.

Why are respirations counted?

People who are ill, such as those with lung or heart disease, may need to have their respirations counted. The respiratory rate can show how the person's body is doing. A change in the respiratory rate may be a warning sign that the person's condition is getting worse.

How do I count a person's respirations?

  • Ask the person to sit upright.

  • Try to count the other person's respirations without him knowing. If he knows, he may try to control his breathing. This can give a false respiratory rate.

  • Use a watch with a second hand and count his breaths for 60 seconds. Use any of the following methods to count:

    • Look at his chest rise and fall. One rise and one fall are counted as 1 breath.

    • Listen to his breaths.

    • Place your hand on the person's chest to feel the rise and fall.

When should I contact a caregiver?

Contact a caregiver if the person you are checking:

  • Has a breathing rate that is less than 12 or more than 25

  • Makes noise when he breathes, such as grunts, wheezes, or gurgling

  • Feels dizzy or more tired than usual

  • Has cold, clammy, sweaty skin

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if the person you are checking:

  • Has to sit upright to breathe or lifts his shoulders when he breathes in

  • Purses his lips when he breathes

  • Has retractions (pulling in of the skin between the ribs and around the neck with each breath)

  • Cannot speak because he has trouble breathing

  • Has blue nails or lips

  • Stops breathing

  • Has a seizure

  • Has a hard time staying awake or thinking clearly

  • Has a fast heartbeat or chest pain

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2013 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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