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.

Causes of acute respiratory failure

A number of conditions may cause acute respiratory failure, many of which are life-threatening or serious conditions. Examples include:

  • Acute asthma attack
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome (life-threatening respiratory condition)
  • Carbon dioxide poisoning
  • Chest trauma
  • Drug or alcohol overdose
  • Pneumonia
  • Pneumothorax (collapsed lung)
  • Pulmonary embolism (blockage of one of the main arteries going to the lungs)
  • Smoke inhalation

Causes of chronic respiratory failure

A number of conditions may cause chronic respiratory failure, many of which are serious conditions. Examples include:

  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease; a severe neuromuscular disease that causes muscle weakness and disability)
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), including emphysema and chronic bronchitis
  • Cystic fibrosis (buildup of thick mucus in the lungs and digestive tract)
  • Guillain-Barré syndrome (autoimmune nerve disorder)
  • Morbid obesity
  • Myasthenia gravis (autoimmune neuromuscular disorder that causes muscle weakness)
  • Sarcoidosis (inflammatory disease most commonly affecting the lungs, skin and eyes)
  • Severe curvature of the spine (scoliosis)

What are the risk factors for respiratory failure?

A number of factors increase the risk of developing respiratory failure. Not all people with risk factors will get respiratory failure. Risk factors for respiratory failure include:

  • Combination of drug and alcohol use
  • Severe obesity
INTRODUCTION

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. Chro... Read more about respiratory failureintroduction

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

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


Popular Lungs, Breathing and Respiration Slide Shows

Personal Story Network

A place where patients, healthcare providers, caregivers, and innovators share their personal stories about healing, and hope within the healthcare system and beyond.