Acute Ventilatory Failure: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

What is Acute Ventilatory Failure?

Acute Ventilatory Failure refers to the inability of the respiratory system to function normally and be able to pump in oxygen in the blood and eliminate carbon dioxide from the body. This inability results in the oxygen levels to become low which inadvertently affects the functioning of other vital organs of the body. It also results in a dramatic increase in the levels of carbon dioxide in the body which again is harmful and causes damage various body organs.

Acute Ventilatory Failure is determined to be a type 2 respiratory failure. It also results in the development of respiratory acidosis in which excess of carbon dioxide in the body causes the pH level of blood and other fluids in the body to increase significantly.

Respiratory acidosis in combination with increased carbon dioxide levels in the body gives rise to myocardial arrhythmias and put significant strain on the already compromised respiratory muscles further complicating the condition and drastically deteriorating the overall condition of the patient.

What are the Causes of Acute Ventilatory Failure?

Acute ventilatory Failure can be caused due to a variety of conditions of which chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD stands out. Complications arising out of suboptimally treated VOPD may cause Acute Ventilatory Failure. Other intercurrent ailments like infections, pneumothorax, or thromboembolism also put strain on the respiratory muscles causing Acute Ventilatory Failure.

Obesity also plays a key role in the development of Acute Ventilatory Failure in people especially in the United States where it has taken the shape of an epidemic. Obesity causes sleep apnea which results in hypoventilation and ultimately causes Acute Ventilatory Failure.

What are the Symptoms of Acute Ventilatory Failure?

Difficulty breathing is the first sign of Acute Ventilatory Failure. This is followed by bluish discoloration around the lip and mouth area and the fingernails. Some of the neurological manifestations of Acute Ventilatory Failure are drowsiness, tremor, seizures, and ultimately coma. There will also be muscle wasting, fasciculation, and weakness.

How is Acute Ventilatory Failure Treated?

The cornerstone of treatment of Acute Ventilatory Failure is supplying enough oxygen to the body such that all the organs work normally. However, the concentration of oxygen, how will it be given, and the duration of the therapy has to be clearly calculated before embarking on this form of treatment. Uncontrolled oxygen therapy can lead to respiratory depression, further increase in carbon dioxide levels, respiratory acidosis.

Medications are usually given for treating the underlying cause of Acute Ventilatory Failure. For people with COPD, bronchodilators are given for symptom relief and improvement in lung function. As the function of the lung improves the levels of carbon dioxide in the body will start to automatically decrease. For this, oral corticosteroids for COPD exacerbations can also be given to accelerate improvement in lung function. This normally lead to shorter inpatient stays and prolongs the time of ex acerbation of COPD.

For cases of respiratory acidosis due to Acute Ventilatory Failure mechanical ventilation may have to be given until the time the levels of carbon dioxide fall and normal functioning returns of lungs.

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:October 4, 2018

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