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Monitoring respiratory rate in adults

02 May 2020
Volume 31 · Issue 5


Barry Hill and Sarah H Annesley discuss the importance of monitoring respiratory rate and why it is a crucial clinical skill

This article will introduce Respiratory Rate and the role of adequate respiration, as well as explore respiratory rate monitoring as an essential aspect of nursing care. It will also give rationale to the importance of respiratory rate monitoring as a clinical skill and introduce normal and abnormal respiration rates and patterns. Furthermore, it will provide a ‘how to’ guide on respiratory rate monitoring and use contemporary evidence-based literature to underpin respiratory rate monitoring for clinical practice.

This article explores the monitoring of respiratory rates in adult patients. This is a significant physical assessment skill because breathing is usually the first vital sign to alter in the deteriorating patient (Hunter and Rawlings-Anderson, 2008). Ascertaining a baseline respiration function will permit an accurate respiration assessment to be carried out, tailored to the individual patient (Simpson, 2006).

The observation and recording of respiratory rate is the numerical calculation of breaths per minute (bpm) and informs the overall physical assessment of respiration. Assessment and recording of respiratory rate must be accurate and is an essential nursing skill. The respiratory rate is one of the six vital signs (Box 1). Evidence suggests that, of all the vital signs, change in respiratory rate is an early sign of deterioration in a patient and failing to recognise such a change can result in poor outcomes (Cretikos et al, 2008).

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