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Acute and Chronic Respiratory Failure

When the blood is sent to different organs of the body with not enough or less oxygen, the condition is referred to as respiratory failure, periodical checkup of chronic respiratory failure treatment, will reduce the risk factors. All organs of the body require continuous flow of oxygenated blood for optimal performance. Too much of carbon dioxide in the blood is harmful to the body’s organs. It is a continuous process, that lungs remove carbon dioxide from the blood and enrich it with oxygen.

To understand respiratory failure, there needs to be clarity on the functions of the lungs, which aid the human body to breathe air (inhale and exhale). First, the air that we breathe passes through the nose, mouth and windpipe, to enter the lungs’ air sacs (alveoli). And, second, the walls of the air sacs are lined by small blood vessels or capillaries. Lungs release oxygen and receive carbondioxide from the blood capillaries. This is called gas exchange. During the condition of respiratory failure, the gas exchange happening in the lungs gets impaired.

Respiratory failure may be chronic (ongoing) or acute (short term), and need to be addressed with the right treatment process. The usual symptoms of respiratory failure are shortness of breath and rapid breathing. In severe cases, it is evident as bluish color on your skin, lips, and fingernails, may also lead to confusion and sleepiness. There are separate treatments for respiratory failure. Acute respiratory failure requires treatment at the ICU, and chronic cases need treatment at home or care center.

The condition of low level of oxygen in the blood is called hypoxemic (HI-pok-SE-mik), and high level of carbondioxide is called hypercapnic (HI-per-KAP-nik). In either of the conditions, the fall-out is definitely respiratory failure. Significantly, lung diseases and conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), pulmonary embolism, and cystic fibrosis also lead to respiratory failure.

However, the symptoms of respiratory failure are not uniform for all patients. In some people, it is seen as arrhythmias or irregular heartbeats, rapid breathing and confusion. The attending doctor looks for the underlying cause of respiratory failure, like abnormal sounds of the lungs, irregular heartbeat, bluish skin and fingernails, sleepiness and confusion. The doctor may check the patient’s alertness.

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The diagnostic tests for respiratory failure include, pulse oximetry and arterial blood gas test. Pulse oximetry uses sensors to estate the amount of oxygen in the blood. Arterial blood gas test helps measuring the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the blood. EKG (electrocardiogram) is recommended to detect and record the heart’s electrical activity.

The treatment for respiratory failure depends on the severity of the condition. The patient will be provided oxygen therapy, tracheostomy and ventilator support. During oxygen therapy, extra oxygen is given through a nasal cannula. Tracheostomy means to insert a pipe into the neck through a surgically made hole. Ventilator support (supply of oxygen) is provided till the patients are able to breathe on their own. During chronic respiratory failure, the noninvasive positive pressure ventilation (NPPV) is also advised by doctors. As fluids improve the blood flow in the body, they are given through an intravenous (IV) line inserted into a blood vessel.

The course of ongoing care includes counseling, exercise training and education. Counseling helps in overcoming fear, anxiety, depression and stress. The patient’s level of preparedness for emergencies is crucial, as it may save lives. In case of conditions with severe respiratory failure it is better to keep the doctor/hospitals’ phone numbers handy. Availing the services of home care providers will be of great help. Keeping all medical records and prescriptions handy is also important.

The Centre for Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at Yashoda Hospitals offer comprehensive consultative, diagnostic and therapeutic services. The Pulmonary and Critical Care specialists at Yashoda Hospital Hyderabad attend promptly to all cases of severe respiratory failure, acute and chronic respiratory failure. The Centre provides state-of-the-art care that includes intensive care units in both, the outpatient and in-patient hospital settings.