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Complete Agonal Breathing Guide: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

Agonal breathing treatment and first aid

When someone struggles to breathe due to cardiac arrest or a similar significant medical emergency, it is referred to as agonal breathing or agonal respiration. The frantic panting for air is a typical sign that the heart is no longer pumping oxygenated blood through the body or that there is a disruption in lung function that is lowering oxygen intake. It serves as an indication of death.

What does Agonal Breathing Mean?

Agonal breathing is the body’s last-ditch effort to prevent certain death. It is a particular form of final, frantic gasping for air seen in those who are dying or have lately passed away. If you have ever seen someone on the verge of passing away, you know how terrible it can be. They fight to take their last few breaths on earth and make creepy gurgling noises to breathe for the final few minutes. Agonal breathing occurs when a person gasps. They are not getting enough oxygen. When your brain does not get oxygen, it needs to survive; an instinct kicks in. A person who is close to passing away will exhibit agonal respiration. Here is an agonal breathing video showing how can help a choking victim:

Symptoms of Agonal Breathing

A “death rattle” is not the same as agonal breathing. Agonal breathing is an unnatural, frequent, and hurried style of breathing. Besides laborious breathing and snorting, agonal breathing can also sound like gasping. The various symptoms of agonal breathing are:

  • Gurgling sounds in the throat:

During agonal breathing, the throat swells, which causes a gurgling sound. It happens because of fluid accumulation in the neck, which produces a gurgling sound. Chest heaving indicates that the person is trying to take one last breath of air.

  • Uncontrolled muscle twitching: 

When the body has insufficient oxygen, the muscles twitch. As the brain’s supply of oxygen reduces, the person may exhibit twitching in their hands, eyelids, legs, and feet. It results in a state that is close to being unconscious.

  • Losing consciousness: 

The individual may also lose consciousness. It may indicate that their brain is deprived of oxygen.

  • Slurred speech:

When a person is about to pass away, their speech gets slurred. The tongue moves slowly as the breathing process becomes shallow and erratic. Speech slurring is a symptom of agonal breathing, which is shallow, and erratic breathing that happens while a person is dying. The respiratory system is the first organ to shut down when a person dies.

  • Numbness in the limbs: 

Agonal breathing can result in numbness in the hands and feet. There is insufficient oxygen reaching the body to support the regular blood flow.

Causes of Agonal Breathing Situations

  • Breathing insufficiently: 

If someone isn’t breathing adequately on their own, their body will attempt to help by increasing the frequency of breathing. The body spontaneously initiates agonal respirations when the person is close to death and unable to breathe on their own.

  • Obstruction in the airway: 

The body immediately initiates an agonal breathing response when a person tries to breathe when their airway is blocked.

  • Cardiac arrest: 

The heart can suddenly stop pumping blood to the brain. It can result in a loss of consciousness in a matter of seconds. Agonal breathing begins because of the decrease in blood flow to the brain. It happens during cardiac arrest, and the brain starts to shut down. Gasping occurs, and medically, gasping is a sign of cardiac arrest (SCA).

Treatments for Agonal Breathing Situations

A clue that anything is wrong is having trouble breathing. Even if there are no other evident signs, if anyone is having trouble breathing, they need emergency medical attention. Tell the dispatcher about the person’s unusual breathing pattern and any other symptoms you’ve observed when you call your local emergency services. Don’t just reply “yes” when the dispatcher asks if the person is breathing because you hear gasping and snorting. Let them know that breathing is not constant. Ask the operator what to do and if performing CPR on the gasping victim is okay. They will also tell you what is the correct ventilation rate when performing CPR.


Know the signs of agonal breathing if you have a friend or family member who is susceptible to a stroke or cardiac arrest. Contact American HealthCare Academy and learn more about free CPR classes in combination with First Aid training, ACLS, BLS certification or BLS recertification, or healthcare CPR, and most importantly, when it is appropriate to perform CPR. Performing CPR timely can save a life.