Is Chronic Respiratory Failure?
You breathe approximately 20,000 times every day. This breathing
wouldn’t be possible without the respiratory system, which is a collection of
organs responsible for taking in oxygen and getting rid of carbon dioxide. When
you inhale, you breathe in oxygen-rich air. The oxygen moves through your bloodstream
and into the organs and tissues of your body. This oxygen is vital for
maintaining essential body functions. When you exhale, you release carbon
dioxide from your body. Carbon dioxide is a waste product that’s produced when the
cells in your body break down sugar from the foods you eat. It’s important for
carbon dioxide to be removed from your blood, as high levels of the gas can cause
Respiratory failure can happen when your respiratory system is
unable to remove carbon dioxide from the blood, causing it to build up in the
body. The condition can also develop when your respiratory system can’t take in
enough oxygen, leading to dangerously low levels of oxygen in the blood. Respiratory
failure may be acute or chronic. Acute respiratory failure is a short-term
condition. It occurs suddenly and is typically treated as a medical emergency. Chronic
respiratory failure, however, is an ongoing condition. It gradually develops
over time and requires long-term treatment.
Chronic respiratory failure usually happens when the tubes that
carry air to your lungs become narrow and damaged. This limits air movement
through the body, which means that less oxygen gets in and less carbon dioxide
Chronic respiratory failure can also be classified as hypoxemic
or hypercapnic respiratory failure. Low blood oxygen levels cause hypoxemic
respiratory failure. High carbon dioxide levels cause hypercapnic
Are the Symptoms of Chronic Respiratory Failure?
Symptoms of chronic respiratory failure may not be noticeable at
first. They usually occur slowly over an extended period of time. When symptoms
do develop, they may include:
- difficulty breathing or shortness of breath,
especially when active
- coughing up mucous
- bluish tint to the skin, lips, or fingernails
- rapid breathing
Chronic respiratory failure is a serious illness that gets worse
over time. As the condition increases in severity, people may develop an
abnormal heart rhythm or slip into a coma.
Causes Chronic Respiratory Failure?
Certain lung diseases can cause chronic respiratory failure.
Conditions that affect the way in which muscles, bones, or tissues support
breathing can also cause chronic respiratory failure.
Common diseases and conditions that may lead to chronic
respiratory failure include:
Is Chronic Respiratory Failure Diagnosed?
Your doctor will be able to diagnose chronic respiratory failure by
performing a physical exam and by asking you about your symptoms and medical
history. They may also run certain tests to confirm the diagnosis.
Your doctor will ask you about lung diseases or conditions you currently
have or have had in the past to learn more about your medical history.
During a physical exam, your doctor will use a medical
device called a stethoscope to listen for abnormal sounds in your lungs and
Pulse Oximetry Test
A pulse oximetry test is a simple and painless test that
evaluates how well oxygen is being sent to various parts of the body. Your doctor
will place a small sensor on the tip of your finger or ear lobe to determine
whether you are getting enough oxygen. In healthy people, normal oxygen
saturation will be 96 to 100 percent. Any percentage under 90 indicates an
abnormally low oxygen level.
Arterial Blood Gas Test
blood gas test is a safe, easy procedure that measures the amount of oxygen
and carbon dioxide in the blood. Your doctor will take blood from an artery in
your wrist. They will then send the blood to a lab for analysis. The results of
this test indicate oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in your blood.
Your doctor can use a chest X-ray or CT scan to obtain a better
view of your lungs. These tests may reveal possible causes of chronic
Is Chronic Respiratory Failure Treated?
Although acute respiratory failure is a medical emergency that
must be treated in a hospital, chronic respiratory failure may be treated at
home. In severe cases, medical professionals can help you manage the condition
in a long-term health care center.
Treatment options typically include:
- treating the underlying cause of respiratory
- removing excess carbon dioxide from the blood
- increasing oxygen levels in the blood
You may receive oxygen therapy if
you don’t have enough oxygen in your blood. Oxygen therapy raises oxygen levels
by increasing the amount of oxygen you inhale. Oxygen is distributed from a
tank through a tube. The gas enters the lungs through a facemask, nasal tubes,
or one larger tube directly inserted into the windpipe. There are small,
portable oxygen machines available that can be carried in a shoulder bag.
In severe cases of chronic respiratory failure, a tracheostomy
may be needed. During this procedure, your doctor places a tube in your
windpipe so that you can breathe more easily. The tube is inserted through a
cut in the front of your neck where your windpipe is located. This tube may be
temporary or permanent.
If chronic respiratory failure doesn’t improve with other
treatments, your doctor may put you on a ventilator, or breathing machine. This
machine pumps oxygen through a tube that is placed into your mouth or nose and
down into your windpipe. Since the ventilator blows air down into your lungs,
you don’t have to breathe it in manually. Depending on the severity of your
condition, the ventilator may just need to help you with breathing, or it may
need to do all of the breathing for you.
Are the Potential Complications of Chronic Respiratory Failure?
There isn’t any cure for chronic respiratory failure, but
symptoms can be managed with treatment. If you have a long-term lung disease,
such as COPD or emphysema,
you may need continuous help with your breathing. Your specific outlook depends
on the exact cause of your respiratory failure, your overall health, and how
quickly you receive treatment. Speak with your doctor to learn more about the
outlook for your particular case.