Respiratory failure is a condition in which not enough oxygen passes from your lungs into your blood. Your body's organs, such as your heart and brain, need oxygen-rich blood to work well. People who have diseases or conditions that affect the muscles, nerves, bones, or tissues that support breathing are at risk for respiratory failure. People who have lung diseases or conditions also are at risk for respiratory failure.
Respiratory failure also can occur if your lungs can't properly remove carbon dioxide (a waste gas) from your blood. Too much carbon dioxide in your blood can harm your body's organs. Both of these problems—a low oxygen level and a high carbon dioxide level in the blood—can occur at the same time.
The signs and symptoms of respiratory failure depend on its underlying cause and the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood. Signs and symptoms may include shortness of breath; air hunger (feeling like you can't breathe in enough air); a bluish color to the skin, lips, and fingernails; rapid breathing; and confusion.
Diseases and conditions that affect your breathing can cause respiratory failure. Examples include COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and spinal cord injuries. COPD prevents enough air from flowing in and out of the airways. Spinal cord injuries can damage the nerves that control breathing.
Small blood vessels called capillaries run through the walls of the air sacs. When air reaches the air sacs, the oxygen in the air passes through the air sac walls into the blood in the capillaries. At the same time, carbon dioxide moves from the capillaries into the air sacs. This process is called gas exchange.
Treatment for respiratory failure depends on whether the condition is acute (short-term) or chronic (ongoing) and its severity. Treatment also depends on the underlying cause of the respiratory failure.
Acute respiratory failure can be a medical emergency. It often is treated in an intensive care unit at a hospital. Chronic respiratory failure often can be treated at home. If chronic respiratory failure is severe, your doctor may recommend treatment in a long-term care centre.
The treatment options for respiratory failure include oxygen therapy and ventilator support, tracheostomy and non-invasive positive pressure ventilation (NPPV) and a rocking bed are two methods that can help you breathe better while you sleep.
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