What is respiratory failure?

Respiratory failure is the inability of the respiratory system to supply oxygen or remove carbon dioxide, resulting in low blood oxygen or high blood carbon dioxide levels, respectively. Multiple conditions can cause one or both of these problems. Acute or sudden respiratory failure can happen as the result of trauma, injury, drug or alcohol overdose, or inhalation of carbon monoxide. Chronic, or long-term, respiratory failure is commonly caused by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), neuromuscular disease, or even morbid obesity.

Respiratory Problems Spotlight

The signs and symptoms of respiratory failure differ depending on the severity and underlying cause. Acute respiratory failure occurs rapidly and can resolve with treatment. Chronic respiratory failure, on the other hand, is a progressive disease, which typically worsens over time. Symptoms of respiratory failure include difficulty breathing, cyanosis (blue or purple coloration of the skin), and lethargy. Treatment depends on the severity of the disease and may include oxygen support, bronchodilators, and ventilatory support.

Respiratory failure can be a serious or life-threatening condition. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have serious symptoms, such as severe difficulty breathing; severe sharp chest pain; bluish coloration of the lips or fingernails; a change in level of consciousness or alertness, such as passing out or unresponsiveness; and rapid heart rate.

Seek prompt medical care if you are being treated for respiratory failure but mild symptoms recur or are persistent.

SYMPTOMS

What are the symptoms of respiratory failure?

Respiratory failure causes insufficient oxygenation or ventilation and can cause a number of symptoms, which can be severe.... Read more about respiratory failuresymptoms

CAUSES

What causes respiratory failure?

Respiratory failure is the inability of the respiratory system to supply oxygen or remove carbon dioxide, resulting in low blood oxygen or high blood carbon dioxide levels. Multiple conditions can cause one or both of these problems. Respiratory failure can transpire quickly as the result of trauma, injury, drug or alcohol overdose, or inhalation of carbon monoxide. Chronic, or long-term, respiratory failure is commonly caused by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), neuromuscular disease, or even morbid obesity.... Read more about respiratory failurecauses

TREATMENTS

How is respiratory failure treated?

Treatment for respiratory failure begins with seeking medical care from your health care provider. The goals of treatment for respiratory failure are to increase oxygenation and improve ventilation. Treatment depends on the severity of the respiratory failure and the cause. Acute respiratory failure treatment will address the underlying cause and include ventilation and oxygenation as needed. Treatment for chronic respiratory failure may be administered at home. Exacerbation of chronic respiratory failure by infection may require hospitalization, and treatment may include oxygenation and ventilator support. Bronchodilators may improve airway patency.... Read more about respiratory failuretreatments

Medical Reviewer: All content has been reviewed by board-certified physicians under the direction of Rich Klasco, M.D., FACEP. Last Annual Review Date: May 2, 2011 Copyright: © Copyright 2011 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Lungs, Breathing and Respiration


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