X Glossary

Open Resources for Nursing (Open RN)

Accessory muscles: Muscles other than the diaphragm and intercostal muscles that may be used for labored breathing.

Apnea: Absence of respirations.

Atelectasis: Alveoli or an entire lung is collapsed, allowing no air movement.

Barrel-chested: An equal AP-to-transverse diameter that often occurs in patients with COPD due to hyperinflation of the lungs.

Bradypnea: Decreased respiratory rate or slow breath less than normal range according to the patient’s age.

Bronchial breath sounds: High-pitched hollow sounds heard over trachea and the larynx.

Bronchovesicular sounds: Mixture of low- and high-pitched sounds heard over major bronchi.

Clubbing: A change in the configuration where the tips of the nails curve around the fingertips, usually caused by chronic low levels of oxygen in the blood.

Crackles: Also referred to as “rales”; sound like popping or crackling noises during inspiration. Associated with inflammation and fluid accumulation in the alveoli.

Crepitus: Air trapped under a subcutaneous layer of the skin; creates a popping or crackling sensation as the area is palpated.

Cyanosis: Bluish discoloration of the skin, lips, and nail beds. It is an indication of decreased perfusion and oxygenation.

Dyspnea: A subjective feeling of breathlessness.

Hemoptysis: Blood-tinged mucus secretions from the lungs.

Hypercapnia: Increased carbon dioxide levels in the blood.

Hypoxemia: Decreased levels of oxygen in the blood.

Kyphosis: Outward curvature of the back; often described as “hunchback.”

Orthopnea: Breathlessness or a feeling of shortness of breath when lying in a reclined position.

Pallor: A reduced amount of oxyhemoglobin in the skin or mucous membranes and causes skin and mucous membranes to present with a pale skin color.

Rales: Another term used for crackles.

Respiration: Includes ventilation and gas exchange at the alveolar level where blood is oxygenated and carbon dioxide is removed.

Retractions: The “pulling in” of muscles between the ribs or in the neck when breathing, indicating difficulty breathing or respiratory distress.

Stridor: High-pitched crowing sounds heard over the upper airway and larynx indicating obstruction.

Tachypnea: Rapid and often shallow breathing greater than normal range according to the patient’s age.

Ventilation: The mechanical movement of air into and out of the lungs.

Vesicular sounds: Low-pitched soft sounds like “rustling leaves” heard over alveoli and small bronchial airways.

Wheeze: High-pitched sounds heard on expiration or inspiration associated with bronchoconstriction or bronchospasm.


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Nursing Skills by Open Resources for Nursing (Open RN) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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