Why Am I Gasping I Already Knew That

Agonal breathing, also known as agonal respirations, refers to inadequate breathing that often manifests as snoring, snorting, gasping, or labored breathing. It may seem like the person is choking or involuntarily gasping for air. However, it’s crucial to understand that agonal breathing is not normal breathing and is often a sign of a severe medical emergency, such as cardiac arrest. In this article, we will explore the definition, appearance, causes, and appropriate response to agonal breathing.

Agonal Breathing Definition

Agonal breathing is a term used in the medical field to describe insufficient and abnormal breathing patterns. When someone experiences agonal respirations, it means their breathing is not adequate, resembling shallow half-breaths or snorting. It’s important to note that agonal breathing is not genuine breathing and should not be mistaken for regular respiration.

During episodes of agonal breathing, individuals are usually unconscious and unresponsive. If you encounter someone displaying agonal breathing, it’s crucial to understand that they require immediate medical attention.

How Does Agonal Breathing Look?

As mentioned earlier, agonal breathing is characterized by short gasps of air. These gasps are abnormal and do not resemble regular breathing. The sound produced during agonal breathing is often similar to snorting or labored breathing.

When an individual is experiencing cardiac arrest and exhibiting agonal breathing, they are likely unconscious and unresponsive. It’s essential to recognize that agonal breathing is not normal breathing and to respond promptly to help individuals in such distressing situations.

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What Causes Agonal Breathing?

Despite its resemblance to a respiratory problem, agonal respirations can be caused by cardiac or heart issues. During cardiac arrest, the heart’s electrical system malfunctions, leading to the ineffective pumping of blood. Without a proper heartbeat, oxygen cannot be distributed throughout the body, resulting in agonal breathing. Approximately 40% of individuals experiencing sudden cardiac arrest display agonal breathing as a result of oxygen deprivation to the lower brainstem, triggering the nonvoluntary breathing reflex.

Agonal breathing may also occur in other medical emergencies, such as cerebral ischemia and hemorrhagic stroke. These conditions restrict blood flow to the brain, prompting the body to attempt to intake oxygen through nonvoluntary agonal breathing.

How to Respond to Agonal Breathing

If you encounter someone demonstrating agonal respirations and they are unresponsive, you must respond immediately using the Call-Push-Shock method:

  1. Call 911: Contact emergency services without delay. Agonal breathing is a sign of a severe medical condition that requires urgent attention. Acting quickly can potentially save a life.

  2. Perform hands-only CPR: Begin CPR by performing continuous chest compressions. Research suggests that individuals experiencing agonal breathing during cardiac arrest have a higher chance of survival if they receive rapid CPR and defibrillation.

  3. Use an AED: If available, utilize an automated external defibrillator (AED). AEDs can assess a person’s heart rhythm and deliver a safe shock to restart the heart if they are experiencing a lethal cardiac arrest arrhythmia.


Remember, promptly seeking medical assistance, performing CPR, and utilizing an AED can significantly increase the chances of survival for individuals experiencing agonal breathing.


The very first thing you should always do is call an ambulance immediately. Agonal breathing indicates a severe medical condition that you should treat urgently. If you respond quickly, you can help save a life.

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After contacting an emergency number, immediately perform CPR and use an AED if available. Research indicates that victims of cardiac arrest who demonstrate agonal breathing are some of the most viable patients with a greater likelihood of survival if they receive rapid CPR and defibrillation.

How to do CPR


Automated external defibrillators can read a person’s heart rhythm and deliver a safe and lifesaving shock to restart their heart if they are experiencing a lethal cardiac arrest arrhythmia. This shock can restore the heart’s normal rhythm, ultimately saving a person’s life. You don’t need to have medical training to use an AED, as the device provides audio instructions on what to do.

Additional Treatment for Agonal Breathing

Agonal breathing is a severe condition that requires on-site treatment by paramedics. Paramedics will take over performing CPR and, depending on the patient’s condition, may also use an AED. Defibrillation shocks from an AED are crucial in restarting the heart of someone experiencing a dangerous cardiac arrest heart rhythm. In some cases, additional interventions such as incubation or ventilation may be necessary if oxygen is not entering the body correctly. Medical professionals may also administer drugs to address the underlying cause of agonal breathing.

Frequently Asked Questions About Agonal Breathing

For more information and answers to common questions about agonal breathing, visit the 5 WS website.

Other Resources

  • AED Comparison Tool
  • What is defibrillation?
  • What is an AED?
  • Why is rapid defibrillation so important?
The 5 Ws and H are questions whose answers are considered basic in information gathering or problem solving. 5ws.wiki will best answer all your questions

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