Respiratory Failure
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Respiratory Failure

Respiratory Failure What Is Respiratory Failure?

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Acute respiratory failure requires emergency treatment. Call 9-1-1 if you suddenly experience trouble breathing, feel confused, or if your family or caregivers notice a bluish color on your skin or lips.

Watch a video to learn more about respiratory failure and what it is.

Respiratory failure is a serious condition that makes it difficult to breathe on your own. Respiratory failure develops when the lungs can’t get enough oxygen into the blood.

We breathe oxygen from the air into our lungs, and we breathe out carbon dioxide, which is a waste gas made in the body’s cells. Breathing is essential to life itself. Oxygen must pass from our lungs into our blood for our tissues and organs to work properly.

Buildup of carbon dioxide can damage tissues and organs and prevent or slow oxygen delivery to the body.

Acute respiratory failure happens quickly and without much warning. It is often caused by a disease or injury that affects your breathing, such as pneumonia, opioid overdose, stroke, or a lung or spinal cord injury

Respiratory failure can also develop slowly. When it does, it is called chronic respiratory failure. Symptoms include shortness of breath or feeling like you can’t get enough air, extreme tiredness, an inability to exercise as you did before, and sleepiness.

A doctor may diagnose you with respiratory failure based on the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in your blood, a physical exam to see how fast and shallow your breathing is and how hard you are working to breathe, as well as the results of lung function tests.

If you are diagnosed with a serious lung disease such as respiratory failure, you may need extra oxygen through tubes in your nose or support with a breathing machine called a ventilator.

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