What Is Kussmaul Breathing, and What Causes It

What Is Kussmaul Breathing?

Kussmaul breathing (also known as gas exchange) refers to the normal physiological processes that occur during death. These include the reduction or elimination of carbon dioxide, water vapor, hydrogen ions and other gases that are normally present in the blood. When these gases become excessive due to respiratory failure, they cause a decrease in oxygen levels within the body’s tissues and organs. Death results from lack of oxygen supply to vital organs such as the brain, heart and lungs.

The term “breathing” is used here because it describes how the body works when there is no oxygen available. A person may breathe through their mouth or nose, but if they do not have enough air in their lungs then they will breath out through their mouth or nose. If they cannot get enough air into their lungs, then they will breathe out through their mouth or nose.

In addition to the above mentioned gases, there are other substances that can contribute to death. Some of them include:

Nitrogenous waste products (such as urine and feces) can cause suffocation. They are very flammable and may ignite spontaneously. Nitrous oxide, which is produced in excess during intoxication, causes unconsciousness and death.

Blood clots can block blood flow to vital organs such as the brain and heart causing death.

When there is not enough oxygen to burn the fuel in your body, the by-product of this process (carbon dioxide) becomes poisonous.

Why Is Kussmaul Breathing Used to Kill?

Kussmaul breathing is also known as Cheyne-Stokes Respiration. It is an abnormal pattern of breathing in which you breathe faster and faster, until you stop breathing completely and then you take a very sudden, deep breath. This cycle repeats itself over and over again. This pattern of breathing usually happens when a person is dying, but it can also happen during certain sleep disorders.

Kussmaul breathing is one of the first things that doctors look for when trying to figure out why a person has stopped breathing. It is important because it shows that a person has very little time left to live. If you see someone breathing in this pattern, they probably will not survive for more than a few hours. However, there are some rare situations in which a person who is breathing like this can survive for many hours or even a few days.

This is very rare and it does not usually happen. This breathing pattern is what leads to death in most cases.

Kussmaul breathing was first described by German physician Jacob Kussmaul in 1877.

How Can You Tell Someone Has Kussmaul Breathing?

Someone who is breathing in this manner will make loud sounds as they breathe in and out. They may also have a bluish color to their face, especially around their mouth. Another sign of Kussmaul breathing is that the person’s abdomen will move in and out quickly as they take quick, short breaths. A person with Kussmaul breathing usually has no other signs or symptoms.

What Are the Causes of Kussmaul Breathing?

Kussmaul breathing can be caused by many different conditions. Most of the time, it is caused by disease or a disorder affecting the brain or the nerves that control breathing. It can also be caused by other medical conditions. Most of the time, Kussmaul breathing is a sign that a person is dying or has fatal conditions such as liver failure, kidney failure, cancer, or heart disease.

There are many medical conditions that can cause Kussmaul breathing. Some of them include:



Bacterial endocarditis (an infection of the lining of the heart)

Cancer, especially in the lungs or pancreas





Inflammation of the lungs or airways due to allergies or infection (such as pneumonia)

Liver failure

Low levels of oxygen in the blood (hypoxia)

Multiple Sclerosis

Oxygen deprivation


Severe burns or acid poisoning of the skin

Sickle cell anemia (a disease that causes problems with the red blood cells)


Drug abuse, including cocaine and amphetamines, among others, can also cause Kussmaul breathing.

Kussmaul breathing can also rarely be a side effect of certain prescription drugs. This type of breathing is sometimes a side effect of antibiotics such as tetracycline, or respiratory drugs such as theophylline (used to treat asthma) or aminophylline (used to help open up the airways for people who have trouble breathing).

What Are the Symptoms of Kussmaul Breathing?

Kussmaul breathing is diagnosed by auscultation, which means listening to the lungs with a stethoscope. In addition to loud sounds caused by the fast, noisy breathing, Kussmaul breathing can also lead to bluish skin color due to a lack of oxygen reaching the blood.

How Is Kussmaul Breathing Treated?

Kussmaul breathing is almost always a sign of a fatal condition. If it is caused by anything that can be treated (such as drug overdose or an allergic reaction), then that condition should be treated as soon as possible. In general Kussmaul breathing can not be treated and will eventually lead to death.

Once a person is diagnosed with Kussmaul breathing, they should be taken to the hospital immediately. Even though this type of breathing rarely lasts for more than a few hours or a few days at most, it can still cause death quite suddenly. The person should be closely monitored by medical professionals.

The only other treatment may be to provide the person with oxygen.

What Happens if Kussmaul Breathing is Left Untreated?

Kussmaul breathing almost always leads to death. If the condition that is causing it can be fixed, then the person may survive. If not, the person will usually die soon.

How Can Kussmaul Breathing be Prevented?

Kussmaul breathing can not be prevented, but it can be quickly diagnosed and treated by medical professionals.

Sources & references used in this article:

Doppler radar-based human breathing patterns classification using support vector machine by D Miao, H Zhao, H Hong, X Zhu… – 2017 IEEE Radar …, 2017 – ieeexplore.ieee.org

Acute acetone poisoning caused by setting fluid for immobilizing casts by LC Harris, RH Jackson – British medical journal, 1952 – ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

Think clearly, be sincere, act calmly: Adolf Kussmaul (February 22, 1822–May 28, 1902) and his relevance to medicine in the 21st century by EL Matteson, FJ Kluge – Current opinion in rheumatology, 2003 – journals.lww.com

Effects of diabetic ketoacidosis in the respiratory system by AG de Moraes, S Surani – World Journal of Diabetes, 2019 – ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

Adolf Kussmaul: 1822–1902 by DL Loriaux – The Endocrinologist, 2010 – journals.lww.com

Inspiratory traction on the pericardium: the cause of pulsus paradoxus in pericardial disease by W Dock – Archives of internal medicine, 1961 – jamanetwork.com

5G-Based User-Centric Sensing at C-Band by X Yang, D Fan, A Ren, N Zhao… – IEEE Transactions on …, 2019 – ieeexplore.ieee.org

Acute hemolytic anemia caused by severe hypophosphatemia in diabetic ketoacidosis by S Shilo, D Werner, C Hershko – Acta haematologica, 1985 – karger.com

Alcoholic ketoacidosis—a review by K Duffens, JA Marx – The Journal of emergency medicine, 1987 – Elsevier