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What is a Respiratory Monitor?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A respiratory monitor is a device which is used to monitor respiration rate. These devices are better known as heart-respiratory monitors, because they are also used to monitor the heart. They are utilized on patients in the hospital who may be at risk of problems such as apnea, and in some cases they may be used at home as well. Manufacturers of respiratory monitors make a variety of these products, including specialty versions designed for use with infants.

The monitor uses several patches which are placed on the body. The patches are used to measure breathing rate and heart rate, responding to movement in the body and transmitting data along attached leads. With the use of an oximeter, a device clipped to the finger, the respiratory monitor can also track oxygen levels in the blood. A blood pressure cuff may also be attached to monitor blood pressure, if blood pressure is a subject of concern among the patient's care team.

Wearing a respiratory monitor can be uncomfortable, especially if the device is worn for a long period of time. The patches can irritate the skin, causing skin to slough off, grow itchy, or become sore. It can also be difficult to move with the patches and oximeter on, and care providers have to take special care to avoid dislodging the patches, oximeter, and connecting wires. Special gel patches can be used to address the skin irritation issue in patients who will be monitored for a prolonged period of time.

The respiratory monitor is hooked up to a monitor which displays values in real time, and may log values so that the care team can look up the values for various points in time. People may be interested in tracking patterns, such as changes in respiration or heart rate which occur at particular times, or in finding the lowest and highest values which occur during a given period. The device can also be connected to a remote monitor at a location such as a nursing station, allowing people to intervene quickly if a problem develops. The respiratory monitor also alarms when values drop into a danger zone.

Home respiratory monitors are simpler, and are often used as apnea alarms. Several companies make respiratory monitors to use at home with babies, with the goal of reducing the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) by alerting parents to apnea when it occurs. These devices mount under the mattress, not requiring patches or leads, which makes them easier and more comfortable to use.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By lighth0se33 — On Jul 11, 2012

My cousin is a COPD patient, and she has a home respiratory monitor that she uses in her sleep. It's very sad, but her condition will only get worse, and she has a caregiver who lives with her and checks the monitor during the night.

She has trouble sleeping, and she has developed sleep apnea. The respiratory monitor alerts the caregiver when my cousin stops breathing, and she quickly wakens her.

Without this monitor, she would be in grave danger every time she fell asleep. I'm glad that you can get these monitors for home use, because she would have to be hospitalized otherwise.

By Oceana — On Jul 10, 2012

I didn't know that heart monitors were called respiratory monitors. I had never heard them referred to as this before.

It makes sense, though. If you stop breathing, then your heart rate is affected, and your heart will eventually stop, so it's all tied in together.

I've always wondered if those patches they put on your chest to hook you to the monitor hurt at all. I understand that they could get sore after awhile, but are they uncomfortable when worn just for a day or so? They look like they might be heavy.

By OeKc05 — On Jul 09, 2012

@JackWhack – They have got to be expensive, because even the kind that you buy for home use cost hundreds of dollars. I had to buy an infant respiratory monitor for my baby, and it cost me nearly three hundred dollars!

However, it was worth the cost. I just could not bear to think of her ceasing to breathe and me not knowing about it until it was too late.

I just put the pads under her mattress, and they can detect her breathing pattern. I have the monitor in my room, so I can rest peacefully. It's only gone off once, and when I went into her room, she was already awake and crying, so I imagine that she was having some sort of difficulty.

By JackWhack — On Jul 09, 2012

I would imagine that the respiratory rate monitors used in hospitals are expensive. They sound really complicated, and in general, the more that a piece of equipment does, the more it costs.

I've never had to be hooked up to one, but I have been in the room with someone who has. My good friend had gall bladder surgery, and he had leads on while in recovery. His blood pressure suddenly dipped, and the monitor started screaming.

There is no scarier sound than that of a heart monitor going haywire. Nurses and doctors started rushing around, and I was escorted out of the room. I panicked until they told me that they had him stabilized again.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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