Skip to main content

All about Chronic Respiratory Failure

Understanding the pathology

What is Chronic Respiratory Failure?

Chronic Respiratory Failure is characterized by the inability of the lungs to maintain normal levels of gases (O² and CO²) in the blood. This disease is most often associated with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), in most cases generated by smoking or occupational exposure to pollutants. 

However, several diseases can also cause oxygen deficiency, such as: interstitial lung disease, cystic fibrosis, severe chronic asthma, congenital heart disease, advanced lung cancer, pulmonary hypertension, among others.

People diagnosed with chronic respiratory failure find it difficult to perform everyday activities that require some physical effort, such as climbing stairs or walking. In these cases, the patient feels short of breath, excessive tiredness and irregular heartbeat.

Types of Chronic Respiratory Failure

There are two types of chronic respiratory failure, they are:

Obstructive respiratory failure: results from a partial obstruction of the airways that reduces the flow of oxygen. Three lung diseases can be associated with this type of insufficiency, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma and emphysema.

Restrictive respiratory failure: related to a decrease in lung capacity, which can be caused by damage to the respiratory pump and changes in the respiratory center in the brain.

Know the Diagnosis of Respiratory Failure

Here are the medical procedures that allow you to establish the diagnosis and assess the severity of the disease:

  • Oximetry is the estimation of the amount of oxygen in the blood or oxygen saturation (SpO²). This test can indicate if the blood oxygen level is too low (SpO2²<88%);
  • Arterial blood gas analysis makes it possible to accurately measure the amounts of O² (or PaO²) and carbon dioxide (or PaCO²) present in the blood;
  • Spirometry and pulmonary function testing: evaluates lung capacity and volumes in order to detect the type and its severity;
  • Cardiac assessment by electrocardiogram and ultrasound.

Tips for living better with chronic respiratory failure

Tips on lifestyle changes can be complemented by respiratory physiotherapy, in order to clear the bronchi and use of CPAP, a device that facilitates breathing during sleep. 

In addition, you can add some practices to your daily life that will reduce symptoms and help with the effectiveness of treatment:

  • Eliminate risk factors such as quitting smoking, avoiding aggravating factors such as secondhand smoke, pollution and over medication that can harm your breathing with medical determination;
  • Adopt a balanced diet;
  • Practice physical activity regularly: it will help you to prevent muscle wasting and preserve your freedom and autonomy.



2. -domicile-insuffisance-respiratoire/diagnostic-linsuffisance-respiratoire

3. Chronic respiratory failure and acute respiratory failure, E Orvoën-Frija, Pitié-Salpêtrière, 2011)

4. Chronic respiratory failure m. Krempf, m. Murris, s. Pontier (Toulouse Faculty of Medicine)