Apnea a​nd Bradycardia 


Apnea is a pause in an infant’s regular breathing, which is longer than 10 to 15 seconds. Apnea may be followed by bradycardia. ​Bradycardia occurs when the infant’s breathing is too slow. The most common type is sinus bradycardia, which is when the sinus node in the heart (which is responsible for contraction during breathing) is not functioning properly. 

Both conditions may be the result of premature birth because the baby’s nervous system is not fully developed. However, there may be other causes, such as:

  • ​Infection

  • Low blood oxygen

  • Environmental factors such as temperature

  • Blockage in the nose

  • Neurological problems

  • Respiratory disease

  • Damaged brain tissue

  • Irregular amounts of chemicals (such as glucose) in the body​​

Some of the symptoms of apnea include:

  • Pause in breathing of 20 seconds or more

  • Severe decrease in heart rate

  • Change in colour of skin, such as skin turning blue

Sinus bradycardia in children does not present with any symptoms. However, other types of bradycardias, for instance those caused by complete heart block, can present with a number of different symptoms. These may include:

  • Excessive tiredness

  • Fainting

  • Chest pains

  • Breathlessness

​If your child is experiencing any of the above symptoms or if you are concerned about irregular heartbeat, it is advisable to seek immediate medical attention. You can call and book an appointment with the Neonatologists working with the Children’s Hospital Services at The Aga Khan University Hospital. ​

Your time with your doctor maybe limited, so make sure to prepare for your visit beforehand. Here are some tips to help get you started.

Babies who are known to be at risk for apnea and bradycardia are put on monitors that are set to go off if the baby’s breathing changes. The staff of internationally trained Neonatologists and nurses at the Children’s Hospital Services at The Aga Khan University Hospital will check your baby’s breathing and heart rate as well as skin colour.  

If your baby is having apnea or bradycardia, then our expert medical staff will monitor it and restart breathing by gently rubbing or stimulate the baby to breathe. Extra oxygen may be given if needed, especially if the baby changes colour. ​​

Our highly trained staff will first check your baby to see how often the breathing episodes occur and last. There may be other causes such as infection or low oxygen. 

In some cases, no further treatment may be needed if the baby only has occasional episodes that respond to gentle rubbing or breathing stimulation.

However, if the episodes are more frequent, then there are other treatment options such as:

  • Medicines 

  • Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) or oxygen may be given through a nosepiece or mask

  • Ventilation with a machine if the episodes are severe​​​

Your doctor and or nurse will give you specific instructions about the prescribed medication. Please ensure that you take or use the prescribed medicine as advised. It can be dangerous to your health if you self-prescribe. Please inform the doctor or nurse beforehand if you have experienced any adverse reactions to any medications in the past. If you experience any symptoms of drug poisoning, overdose or severe reaction please contact the Pharmacy Service at The Aga Khan University Hospital immediately. You can find the contact number of the Pharmacy Services in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.



The information provided on our website is for educational purposes and not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or other healthcare professional provider. ​