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Alternative NamesRespiration slowed or stopped; Not breathing; Respiratory arrest; Apnea
Definition Return to top
Breathing that slows down or stops from any cause is called apnea.
Considerations Return to top
Apnea can come and go and be temporary. This can occur with obstructive sleep apnea, for example.
Prolonged apnea means a person has stopped breathing. If the heart is still active, the condition is known as respiratory arrest. This is a life-threatening event that requires immediate medical attention and first aid.
Prolonged apnea accompanied by lack of any heart activity in a person who is not responsive is called cardiac (or cardiopulmonary) arrest. In infants and children, the most common cause of cardiac arrest is respiratory arrest. In adults, the opposite usually occurs: Cardiac arrest leads to respiratory arrest.
Causes Return to top
Apnea can occur for many different reasons. The most common causes of apnea in infants and small children are generally quite different from the most common causes in adults.
Common causes of apnea in infants and young children include:
Common causes of apnea in adults include:
Other causes of apnea include:
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
See immediate medical attention or call your local emergency number (such as 911) if a person with any type of apnea:
If a person has stopped breathing, call for emergency help and perform CPR (if you know how). When in a public place, look for an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) and follow the directions.
What to Expect at Your Office Visit Return to top
CPR or other emergency measures will be done in an emergency room or by an ambulance EMT (emergency medical technician).
Once the patient is stable, the health care provider will do a physical exam, which includes listening to heart sounds and breath sounds.
Questions will be asked about the person's medical history and symptoms, including:
Diagnostic tests that may be done include:
References Return to top
Gausche-Hill M. Sudden infant death syndrome and apparent life-threatening events. In: Marx J, ed. Rosen’s Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 6th ed. St Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2006:chap 175.Update Date: 1/16/2009 Updated by: Jacob L. Heller, MD, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington, Clinic. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.