What is Respiratory Acidosis?

Respiratory Acidosis which is also known by the names of Respiratory Failure or Ventilatory Failure is a pathological condition of the respiratory system in which the lungs of the body are not able to remove enough carbon dioxide from the body thus making the blood and other fluids in the body more acidic in nature. This is because the body must balance the ions that control pH.

In majority of the cases, Respiratory Acidosis is caused due to an underlying condition. Under normal circumstances, the lungs take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide. The oxygen is taken from the lungs to different parts of the body while the carbon dioxide is released from the lungs to the air. Sometimes what happens is that the lungs lose their capacity to remove enough carbon dioxide from the body and some amount of carbon dioxide still remains within the body, which increases the acidic content in the blood and other fluids in the body causing Respiratory Acidosis. Some of the underlying conditions like asthma, COPDpneumonia and sleep apnea are the primary causes for development of Respiratory Acidosis.

Respiratory Acidosis

What are the Types of Respiratory Acidosis?

Respiratory Acidosis is of two types, of which one is acute and the second is chronic.

Acute Respiratory Acidosis: This occurs quickly and the symptoms caused by it are also quite severe. This is in fact a medical emergency and any individual who has acute Respiratory Acidosis needs to be treated emergently. Any delay in treatment or if left untreated may cause life-threatening complications.

Chronic Respiratory Acidosis: This type of Respiratory Acidosis develops over time and is relatively asymptomatic. In fact, the body gets used to the increased acidic content, but chronic respiratory acidosis may become acute if any other illness tends to worsen the condition.

What Causes Respiratory Acidosis?

The pH, which is a measure of how acidic or basic a liquid is, is controlled by the lungs and the kidneys in the body. The lungs flush out excess acid by way of expelling carbon dioxide whereas the kidneys do it by way of urine. Acidosis occurs when the pH of the blood increases to a level where the blood becomes acidic. It is generally below the level of 7.35. The lower the value of pH the higher the acidic content is. Respiratory Acidosis is usually caused by an underlying lung condition like asthma or chronic COPD, which interferes with the ability of the lungs to remove carbon dioxide causing respiratory acidosis. Some of the underlying problems that may cause respiratory acidosis are:

Common Causes of Acute Form of Respiratory Acidosis are:

  • Lung disorders.
  • Medical conditions affecting breathing of an individual.
  • Muscle weakness which makes it tough for an individual to breath out.
  • Obstructed airways.
  • Overdose of a sedative.

What are the Symptoms of Respiratory Acidosis?

Some of the symptoms of Respiratory Acidosis are:

In case if treatment is not rendered for Respiratory Acidosis then the symptoms may worsen and may also include:

How is Respiratory Acidosis Diagnosed?

The best way to diagnose Respiratory Acidosis is by checking the pH level in the blood, which will be significantly lower than normal suggesting that the blood is significantly acidic. This can be done through different tests. The tests done to confirm a diagnosis of Respiratory Acidosis are:

Blood Gas Measurement: This test is done to measure the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood. If the levels of carbon dioxide are significantly high, then it proves that the blood is acidic in nature.

Electrolyte Measurement: This is a test that measures the levels of sodium, potassium, and chloride in the body. There will be electrolyte imbalance noticed in the test in cases of Respiratory Acidosis.

Lung Function Tests: This is done to check whether the lungs are functioning normally or not. In cases of Respiratory Acidosis, the function of the lungs will be significantly decreased.

Urinalysis: This test may also be done to check whether there is increased acidic content in the urine, which will confirm the diagnosis of Respiratory Acidosis.

How is Respiratory Acidosis Treated?

The treatment for Respiratory Acidosis is different for the acute and chronic form of this condition. The front line treatment for Acute Respiratory Acidosis is to treat the underlying cause. In case of airway obstruction causing acute Respiratory Acidosis then clearing of the airway is the priority to treat the condition. As stated above, acute respiratory acidosis is a medical emergency and treatment should be started immediately after diagnosis so as to prevent any potential life threatening complications of acute respiratory acidosis.

For chronic respiratory acidosis, again the goal of the treatment is to control the underlying condition. Some of the methods employed to treat chronic respiratory acidosis are administration of:

  • Antibiotics for treatment of any infection causing Respiratory Acidosis.
  • Diuretics to decrease pressure on the lungs.
  • Bronchodilators to expand the airways, so that more and more carbon dioxide can be expelled from the body.
  • Corticosteroids for decreasing any inflammation causing Respiratory Acidosis.

Also Read:

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD, FFARCSI

Last Modified On: May 1, 2017

Pain Assist Inc.

Pramod Kerkar
  Note: Information provided is not a substitute for physician, hospital or any form of medical care. Examination and Investigation is necessary for correct diagnosis.

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