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Respiratory Failure

Respiratory failure occurs when the lungs cannot remove all of the carbon dioxide the body produces. This causes body fluids, especially the blood, to become too acidic.

Causes of respiratory failure include:

  • Diseases of the airways, such as asthma and COPD
  • Diseases of the lung tissue, such as pulmonary fibrosis
  • Diseases that can affect the chest, such as scoliosis
  • Diseases affecting the nerves and muscles that signal the lungs to inflate or deflate
  • Medicines that suppress breathing, including powerful pain medicines, such as narcotics, and “downers,” such as benzodiazepines, often when combined with alcohol
  • Severe obesity, which restricts how much the lungs can expand
  • Obstructive sleep apnea

Signs & Symptoms

Symptoms of respiratory failure may include:

  • Confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Easy fatigue
  • Lethargy
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sleepiness
  • Tremors
  • Warm and flushed skin
  • Sweating

Diagnosis

In order to diagnose respiratory failure, a Deborah Heart and Lung Center physician may order the following tests:

  • Arterial blood gas
  • Basic metabolic panel
  • Chest x-ray
  • CT scan of the chest
  • Pulmonary function test