What Are Cheyne-Stokes Respirations?

Learn More About This Natural Part of the Dying Process

Nurse putting hand on elderly male patient's forehead
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Cheyne-Stokes respirations are defined by irregular breathing. Breathing may be fast one moment and quite slow the next. There may also be periods of apnea, or no breathing at all.

Cheyne-Stokes respirations are often seen near the end of life.

What Causes Cheyne-Stokes Respirations?

As this breathing pattern can be very disturbing to loved ones who are present at the end of someone's life, you may wonder if there is a specific cause that might be treated.

In actuality, this breathing at the end of life is not uncomfortable to the dying person, and it does not need to be treated for comfort purposes. In fact, it may actually be a way in which the body compensates in some way for other physical changes that are taking place.

Other causes of Cheyne-Stokes breathing, outside of an end-of-life-occurrence, include:

Is There Anything That Can or Should Be Done About Cheyne-Stokes?

Recent medical opinion tends to fall on the belief that this type of breathing is a physiological compensatory response that does not necessarily need to be treated when seen at the end of life.

Further Reading

Cheyne-Stokes Respirations - Definition, Meaning, and Prognosis. Cheyne-stokes respirations are a pattern of irregular breathing often seen in the last days of life, but also seen in some people with congestive heart failure.

Breathing can be very deep and rapid, followed by periods of slow shallow breaths, or episodes of apnea, where an individual stops breathing altogether for a period of time.

What is a Normal Respiratory Rate? The normal range of respiratory rate for adults and children, how to accurately measure this rate, and what it means if the rate is abnormal.

The Journey Toward Death. The dying process usually begins well before death actually occurs. It's a personal journey each individual approaches in their own unique way. As that process begins, a person starts on a mental path of discovery, comprehending that death will indeed occur and believing in their own mortality. The journey ultimately leads to the physical departure from the body.

Tips For Caregivers of Cancer Patients. Caring for someone with lung cancer, or any chronic illness, is one of the greatest expressions of love. Putting aside the busyness of life to care for one less fortunate can be incredibly rewarding. There are few things we do in our day-to-day lives that benefit another as much. It can also be draining. Doing too much without the support of others can create feelings of resentment that linger long after the crisis is over. What can caregivers do to care for themselves, while they care for others?

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