Chronic respiratory insufficiency: causes, symptoms, diagnosis

What is chronic respiratory failure?

Respiratory failure can occur when your respiratory system can not remove enough carbon dioxide from the blood, which causes it to accumulate in your body. The condition can also develop when your respiratory system can not get enough oxygen, which leads to dangerously low levels of oxygen in your blood.

Respiratory failure can be acute or chronic. Severe respiratory insufficiency It is a short-term condition. It happens suddenly and is usually treated as a medical emergency. Chronic respiratory insufficiencyHowever, it is a continuous condition. It develops gradually over time and requires long-term treatment.

Chronic respiratory failure usually occurs when the airways that carry air to the lungs become narrow and damaged. This limits the movement of air through the body, which means that less oxygen enters and less carbon dioxide comes out.

Chronic respiratory failure can also be classified as hypoxaemic or hypercapnic respiratory failure. Low levels of oxygen in the blood cause hypoxemic respiratory failure. High levels of carbon dioxide cause Hypercapnic respiratory failure.

What are the symptoms of chronic respiratory failure?

Symptoms of chronic respiratory failure may not be noticeable at first. In general, they occur slowly over a prolonged period of time. When symptoms develop, they may include:

  • difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, especially when active

  • mucus cough

  • wheezing

  • Bluish tint on the skin, lips or nails.

  • fast breathing

  • fatigue

  • anxiety

  • Confusion

  • headache every day

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, stop breathing, or go into a coma.

What causes chronic respiratory failure?

Certain lung diseases can cause chronic respiratory failure. Conditions that affect how the brain, muscles, bones, or surrounding tissues support breathing can also cause chronic respiratory failure.

The diseases and conditions that commonly lead to chronic respiratory failure include:

  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

  • complicated pneumonia

  • cystic fibrosis

  • spinal cord injuries

  • career

  • muscular dystrophy

  • ELA (Lou Gehrig's disease)

  • chest injury

  • drug or alcohol abuse

  • of smoking

How is chronic respiratory failure diagnosed?

Your doctor can diagnose chronic respiratory failure by performing a physical examination and asking about your symptoms and medical history. They can also perform certain tests to confirm the diagnosis. Often, an ongoing disease or significant injury has occurred before its development.

Medical history

Your doctor will ask about the lung diseases or conditions you currently have or have had in the past to get more information about your medical history.

Physical exam

During a physical exam, your doctor will use a medical device called a stethoscope to listen for abnormal sounds in your lungs and heart.

Pulse oximetry test

Pulse oximetry 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 on the earlobe to determine if you are getting enough oxygen. In healthy people, the normal range of oxygen saturation will be 96 to 100 percent. Any percentage below 90 indicates an abnormally low oxygen level.

Arterial blood gas test

An arterial blood gas test is a safe and easy procedure that measures the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood. It also measures the pH or the acid content of your blood. Your doctor will take blood from an artery in your wrist. Then they will send the blood to a laboratory for analysis. The results of this test indicate the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood, as well as the general chemistry of your blood.

Image tests

Your doctor may use a chest x-ray or a CT scan to get a better view of your lungs. These tests can reveal possible causes of chronic respiratory failure.


A bronchoscope is a thin, flexible instrument with light that can be inserted into the airways and lungs. Doctors can use this test to look more closely at the pulmonary ducts, as well as take samples of the airways and lung tissue.

How is chronic respiratory failure treated?

Although acute respiratory failure is a medical emergency that must be treated in a hospital, chronic respiratory failure can be treated at home, depending on its cause. In severe cases, medical professionals can help you manage the condition in a long-term care facility.

Treatment options typically include:

  • treat the underlying cause of respiratory failure

  • Remove excess carbon dioxide from the blood.

  • Increase in oxygen levels in the blood.

Oxygen therapy

You may receive oxygen therapy if you do not have enough oxygen in your blood. Oxygen therapy increases 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 mask, nasal tubes or a larger tube inserted directly into the trachea. There are small portable oxygen machines available that can be carried in a shoulder bag.


In severe cases of chronic respiratory failure, a tracheotomy may be necessary. During this procedure, your doctor places a tube in your trachea so you can breathe easier. The tube is inserted through a cut in the front of your neck, where your trachea is located. This tube can be temporary or permanent.

Mechanic ventilation

If chronic respiratory failure does not improve with other treatments, your doctor may put a ventilator or breathing machine. This machine pumps oxygen through a tube that is placed in your mouth or nose and into your windpipe. Since the ventilator blows air directly at the lungs, you do not have to work so hard to breathe oxygen on your own. Depending on the severity of your condition, the ventilator may only need help breathing or have to breathe everything for you.

Other forms of respiratory support, known as non-invasive ventilation (NIV) include BiPAP and CPAP. These may be appropriate long-term options for certain conditions.

What are the possible complications of chronic respiratory failure?

There is often no cure for chronic respiratory failure, but the symptoms can be managed with treatment. If you have a long-term lung disease, such as COPD or emphysema, you may need continued help breathing. Your specific perspective depends on the exact cause of your respiratory failure, your general health status and how quickly you receive treatment. Talk to your doctor to get more information about the prospects of your particular case.

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