When breathing is not really breathing

29 May 2015

Agonal breathing is an inadequate pattern of breathing, approximately one breath every 10-15 seconds. For the lay person it can be easily confused for ordinary respiration leading to the mistaken impression that a casualty is breathing.

The period of the gasping respiration stage varies; it may be as brief as one or two breaths to a prolonged period of gasping lasting minutes or even hours. Gasping respirations are very abnormal, strange vocalizations and a brief, involuntary twitching of a muscle or a group of muscles may be present.

Agonal breathing occurs in 40% of cardiac arrests outside of the hospital system, extreme hypoxia (lack of oxygen to the body or body tissues) as seen in drowning victims, and a variety of other accidents or conditions which can cause insufficient blood flow to the brain, leading to stroke. 

Agonal breathing is an extremely serious medical sign requiring immediate assessment to determine if CPR should be commenced, as the condition generally progresses to complete cessation of breathing and leads to loss of life. 

The following YouTube clip has been taken from Channel 10's Bondi Rescue 2006. It may be confronting for many individuals, however it is a true representation of agonal breathing in a casualty. It is important to note that there have been changes to the way we perform CPR to date.

To update your knowledge and skills why not sign up for one of our CPR or First Aid training courses? We have first aid courses in Perth and throughout Western Australia. Our most popular training course is the 2 day Provide First Aid training course and you can enrol here.