Respiratory Failure
Respiratory Failure

Respiratory Failure Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask you or your family members about your medical history and risk factors, especially any medical conditions that may affect your lungs and breathing. Your doctor will also ask if you have any symptoms of respiratory failure such as shortness of breath, rapid breathing, and confusion.

During a physical exam, your doctor may do the following:

  • Check for a bluish color on your lips, fingers, or toes.
  • Listen to your heart with a stethoscope to check for a fast or irregular heartbeat.
  • Listen to your lungs with a stethoscope for rapid breathing or any unusual sounds when you breathe. He or she will also see if your chest moves unevenly while you breathe.
  • Measure your blood oxygen level with a clip on a finger, called pulse oximetry.
  • Measure your blood pressure to check if it is too high or low.
  • Measure your temperature to check for a fever and ask if you have recently had a fever.

Diagnostic tests and procedures

To diagnose respiratory failure, your doctor may order some of the following tests and procedures.

  • Arterial blood gas tests measure levels of oxygen, carbon dioxide, pH, and bicarbonate. A sample of your blood will be taken from your arteries. These tests help determine whether you have respiratory failure and what type it is.
  • Blood tests can help find the cause of your respiratory failure. Blood tests can also help your doctor see how well your other organs are working.
  • Bacterial cultures can show a bacterial infection in samples of your blood, urine, or phlegm (a slimy substance that you cough out).
  • Bronchoscopy can show blockages,  tumors , or other possible causes of respiratory failure.
  • Lung imaging tests show detailed images of the lungs and can reveal any possible  inflammation  or damage.
  • Heart tests such as electrocardiogram and echocardiography show how well your heart is working.
  • A lung  biopsy shows changes in the cells of your lung tissue or tiny germs or microbes causing infections.
  • Lung function tests measure how well your lungs are working.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a long-term lung disease. Watch this video to see Antonello Punturieri, MD, demonstrate how to take a simple lung test that doctors use to diagnose COPD.

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