Is Respiratory Acidosis?
Respiratory acidosis, also called
respiratory failure or ventilatory failure, is a condition that occurs when the
lungs can’t remove enough of the carbon dioxide (CO2) produced by the body.
Excess CO2 causes the pH of blood and other bodily fluids to decrease, making
them too acidic. This is because the body must balance the ions that control
pH. Respiratory acidosis is typically caused by an underlying disease or
Normally, the lungs take in
oxygen and exhale CO2. Oxygen passes from the lungs into the blood. CO2 passes
from the blood into the lungs. However, sometimes the lungs can’t remove enough
CO2. This may be due to a decrease in respiratory rate or decrease in air
movement due to an underlying condition such as asthma, COPD, pneumonia, or
sleep apnea. This may cause respiratory acidosis.
of Respiratory Acidosis
There are two forms of
respiratory acidosis: acute and chronic.
Acute respiratory acidosis occurs
quickly. It is a medical emergency. Left untreated, symptoms will get
progressively worse. It can become life-threatening.
Chronic respiratory acidosis
develops over time. It does not cause symptoms. Instead, the body adapts to the
increased acidity. For example, the kidneys produce more bicarbonate to help
Chronic respiratory acidosis may
not cause symptoms. However, people with chronic respiratory acidosis may also
get acute respiratory acidosis when another illness causes the condition to
worsen. If you have any of the underlying causes of respiratory acidosis
(defined below) and experience any of the symptoms of acute respiratory
acidosis, it’s important to see a doctor right away. If you have any of the
underlying causes of respiratory acidosis, be sure to see your doctor for
treatment. The underlying cause could be serious. Your doctor may also want to
perform tests to monitor your condition.
and Symptoms of Respiratory Acidosis
Initial signs of acute
respiratory acidosis include:
Without treatment, other symptoms
may occur. These include:
The chronic form of respiratory
acidosis doesn’t typically cause any noticeable symptoms. Signs are subtle and
nonspecific and may include:
- memory loss
- sleep disturbances
- personality changes
Causes of Respiratory Acidosis
The lungs and the kidneys are the
major organs that help regulate your blood’s pH. The lungs flush out acid by
exhaling CO2 and the kidneys excrete acids through the urine. The kidneys also
regulate your blood’s concentration of bicarbonate (a base).
Acidosis occurs when the pH of
the blood falls below 7.35 (normal blood pH is between 7.35 and 7.45). Respiratory
acidosis is usually caused by a lung disease or condition that affects normal
breathing or impairs the lung’s ability to remove CO2. Some common causes of
the chronic form are:
obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
obesity (which can interfere with expansion of the lungs)
disorders (such as multiple sclerosis or muscular dystrophy)
Some common causes of the acute
disorders (COPD, emphysema, asthma, pneumonia)
that affect the rate of breathing
weakness that affects taking a breath or a deep breath
airways (due to choking or other causes)
Is Respiratory Acidosis Diagnosed?
The goal of diagnostic tests for
respiratory acidosis is to look for any pH imbalance, to determine the severity
of the imbalance, and to determine the condition causing the imbalance. Several
tools can help doctors diagnose respiratory acidosis.
Blood Gas Measurement
Blood gas is a series of tests
used to measure oxygen and CO2 in the blood. A healthcare provider will take a
sample of blood from your artery. High levels of CO2 can indicate acidosis.
Electrolyte testing is a group of
tests that measure levels of Na+ (sodium), K+ (potassium), Cl- (chloride), and
bicarbonate. One or more of the electrolytes will be increased or decreased in
people with acid-base disorders such as respiratory acidosis.
Lung Function Tests
Many people with this condition
have reduced lung function.
X-rays can help doctors see
injuries or other problems likely to cause acidosis.
Based on these tests, your doctor
may also perform other tests to help diagnose the underlying condition that is
causing the acidosis. These include tests to measure glucose, lactate, and
ketones. Other tests include drug testing, a complete blood count (CBC), and a urinalysis
Treating acute acidosis usually
means addressing the underlying cause. For example, your airway may need to be
cleared. This must be done as soon as possible. Artificial ventilation may also
With the chronic form of this
disease, treatment focuses on managing any underlying conditions. The goal is
to improve airway function. Some strategies include:
(to treat infection)
(to reduce pressure on the heart and lungs)
(to expand the airways)
(to reduce inflammation)
ventilation (in severe cases)
Is the Typical Outlook for Someone with Respiratory Acidosis?
Respiratory acidosis has many
causes, so it’s difficult to generalize about a long-term outlook. Your outlook
largely depends on what is causing your disease and your doctor should be able
to give you an idea of what to expect.
The acute form of respiratory
acidosis can be fatal. Be sure to seek emergency medical help if you experience
a sudden difficulty in breathing or if your airway is obstructed. This is
especially important if you already have chronic respiratory acidosis or any of
the underlying lung diseases.
to Lower Your Risk for Respiratory Acidosis
The best way to prevent acidosis
is to avoid causes of the disease.
Choosing to live a smoke-free
lifestyle may help. Smokers are at higher risk for chronic respiratory
acidosis. Smoking is bad for lung function. It increases the risk of
respiratory diseases and can have an adverse impact on overall quality of life.
Maintaining a healthy weight can
reduce your risk of this condition.
Use caution when taking sedatives.
They can interfere with your ability to breathe. Sedatives depress the central
nervous system. Always read and follow the label. Never take more than is
recommended. Mixing sedatives with
alcohol can be fatal.