Respiratory failure is a condition in which your blood doesn't have enough oxygen or has too much carbon dioxide. Sometimes you can have both problems.
When you breathe, your lungs take in oxygen. The oxygen passes into your blood, which carries it to your organs. Your organs, such as your heart and brain, need this oxygen-rich blood to work well.
Another part of breathing is removing the carbon dioxide from the blood and breathing it out. Having too much carbon dioxide in your blood can harm your organs.
Conditions that affect your breathing can cause respiratory failure. These conditions may affect the muscles, nerves, bones, or tissues that support breathing. Or they may affect the lungs directly. These conditions include
The symptoms of respiratory failure depend on the cause and the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood.
A low oxygen level in the blood can cause shortness of breath and air hunger (the feeling that you can't breathe in enough air). Your skin, lips, and fingernails may also have a bluish color. A high carbon dioxide level can cause rapid breathing and confusion.
Some people who have respiratory failure may become very sleepy or lose consciousness. They also may have arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat). You may have these symptoms if your brain and heart are not getting enough oxygen.
Your health care provider will diagnose respiratory failure based on
Once you are diagnosed with respiratory failure, your provider will look for what is causing it. Tests for this often include a chest x-ray. If your provider thinks you may have arrhythmia because of the respiratory failure, you may have an EKG (electrocardiogram). This is simple, painless test that detects and records your heart's electrical activity.
Treatment for respiratory failure depends on
Acute respiratory failure can be a medical emergency. You may need treatment in intensive care unit at a hospital. Chronic respiratory failure can often be treated at home. But if your chronic respiratory failure is severe, you might need treatment in a long-term care center.
One of the main goals of treatment is to get oxygen to your lungs and other organs and remove carbon dioxide from your body. Another goal is to treat the cause of the condition. Treatments may include
If you have respiratory failure, see your health care provider for ongoing medical care. Your provider may suggest pulmonary rehabilitation.
If your respiratory failure is chronic, make sure that you know when and where to get help for your symptoms. You need emergency care if you have severe symptoms, such as trouble catching your breath or talking. You should call your provider if you notice that your symptoms are worsening or if you have new signs and symptoms.
NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute