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Research Article

Raised respiratory rate in elderly patients: a valuable physical sign.

Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) 1982; 284 doi: (Published 27 February 1982) Cite this as: Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) 1982;284:626
  1. J P McFadden,
  2. R C Price,
  3. H D Eastwood,
  4. R S Briggs


    Measurements of respiratory rate in 82 long-stay patients aged 67-101 years yielded a normal range of 16-25 breaths a minute. In a prospective study of 60 consecutive acute admissions to a geriatric unit, 19 out of 21 patients diagnosed as lower respiratory tract infections had respiratory rates above the upper limit of normal on the day of diagnosis; the rise in respiratory rate preceded the clinical diagnosis. All eight patients who were diagnosed on admission as having a lower respiratory tract infection had a respiratory rate greater than 26, with a mean of 29.7 breaths a minute. Patients admitted for other conditions-for example, urinary tract infection-rarely had respiratory rates outside the normal range. Accurate measurement of respiratory rate is a valuable diagnostic aid in elderly patients.