Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, MD, FFARCSI

How is Respiratory Failure Defined?

Respiratory Failure is a serious medical condition that arises when there is little oxygen taken in by the body by the process or breathing. This causes insufficient oxygen to reach the vital organs of the body resulting in them not functioning normally. When we breathe we take in oxygen from the air and breathe out carbon dioxide from the body. If too less oxygen is taken in from the air then automatically the levels of carbon dioxide increases in the body. This also can cause significant damage to various organs of the body. Both the process of taking in oxygen and exhaling out carbon dioxide is done in the lungs.

If the lungs do not function normally then the balance between the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the body gets affected. This is what causes respiratory failure. Some medical conditions that can cause Respiratory Failure are COPD, respiratory Distress Syndrome, and certain spinal cord injuries which affect the nerves that control breathing.

The lungs contain air sacs through which oxygen pass through the capillaries and into the bloodstream while at the same time the carbon dioxide from the blood pass through the capillaries and into the air sacs which is then expelled out of the body. This process is called gas exchange. Any abnormality in this process leads to respiratory Failure.

Respiratory Failure can be acute or chronic. The symptoms of Acute Respiratory Failure come on suddenly and are extremely serious while the symptoms of chronic Respiratory Failure comes on gradually over a period of time.

What Happens to the Body During Respiratory Failure & What are the Complications of Respiratory Failure?

What happens to the body during Respiratory Failure depends on what is actually is causing this condition. Due to low oxygen level in the body the affected individual has difficulty breathing and will feel like he cannot take in enough air. The body will have a bluish discoloration due to lack of oxygen around the lips and mouth area and also in the fingernails. The respiratory rate of the individual is also extremely high due to Respiratory Failure.

Some people also lose their consciousness during Respiratory Failure. They also feel extremely sleepy and drowsy due to lack of oxygen levels and increased carbon dioxide. It also causes altered mentation in some people. The heartbeat also gets affected due to Respiratory Failure with frequent episodes of arrhythmias. This is usually due to the brain and the heart not getting in enough supply of oxygen. Respiratory Failure also causes certain complications some of which may be serious like:

Complications of the Lungs: Due to Respiratory Failure, the individual may develop pulmonary embolism, pulmonary scarring, or pneumothorax which are quite serious manifestations of Respiratory Failure and can require ventilator assistance for breathing.

Complications of the Heart: Respiratory Failure can cause heart failure, myocardial infarction, or pericarditis which again is quite serious medical conditions.

Polycythemia: Low levels of oxygen in the blood causes the levels of RBCs to increase in the blood. This slows down the blood flow which can be a potential cause for blood clot formation.

Complications in Brain: Low levels of oxygen in the brain may cause irreversible damage to the brain and cause the individual to have seizures, loss of consciousness, and even coma.

Hospital Acquired Infections: Since people with Respiratory Failure require prolonged hospital admissions, they can get affected with certain hospital acquired infections like pneumonia or diarrhea which further affects the respiratory system of the body and make the condition even worse.

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD,FFARCSI

Pain Assist Inc.

Last Modified On: October 5, 2018

This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer

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