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Respiratory failure happens when 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. Respiratory failure also can happen if your lungs can't remove carbon dioxide (a waste gas) from your blood. Too much carbon dioxide in your blood can harm your body's organs.
Diseases and conditions that affect your breathing can cause respiratory failure. Examples include
- Lung diseases such as COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), pneumonia, pulmonary embolism, and cystic fibrosis
- Conditions that affect the nerves and muscles that control breathing, such as spinal cord injuries, muscular dystrophy and stroke
- Damage to the tissues and ribs around the lungs. An injury to the chest can cause this damage.
- Drug or alcohol overdose
- Injuries from inhaling smoke or harmful fumes
Treatment for respiratory failure depends on whether the condition is acute (short-term) or chronic (ongoing) and how severe it is. It also depends on the underlying cause. You may receive oxygen therapy and other treatment to help you breathe.
NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
- Blood Gases Test (American Association for Clinical Chemistry)
- How Is Respiratory Failure Diagnosed? (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute)
- What Are Lung Function Tests? (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute)
- What Are the Signs and Symptoms of ARDS? (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute)
- What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Respiratory Failure? (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute)
- How Is ARDS Treated? (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute)
- How Is Respiratory Failure Treated? (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute)
- Mechanical Ventilation (American Thoracic Society) - PDF
- MedlinePlus: Oxygen Therapy (National Library of Medicine) Available in Spanish
- What Is a Ventilator? (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute)
- Who Is at Risk for ARDS? (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute)
- JAMA Patient Page: Lung Complications After Surgery (American Medical Association) - PDF Available in Spanish
- What Are the Lungs? (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute)
- ClinicalTrials.gov: Respiratory Distress Syndrome, Adult (National Institutes of Health)
- ClinicalTrials.gov: Respiratory Insufficiency (National Institutes of Health)
- Genetics Home Reference: Hereditary myopathy with early respiratory failure (National Library of Medicine)
Journal ArticlesReferences and abstracts from MEDLINE/PubMed (National Library of Medicine)
- Article: Sodium balance, not fluid balance, is associated with respiratory dysfunction...
- Article: Identification of unexpected respiratory abnormalities in patients with amyotrophic lateral...
- Article: Understanding the challenges during transitions of care for children with...
- Respiratory Failure -- see more articles
- Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) (American Lung Association) - PDF