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COPD Complications: Respiratory Failure


Updated February 01, 2011

Respiratory Failure

Normal Respiratory System

Photo © A.D.A.M.
Respiratory failure can be a complication of COPD and occurs when the lungs are unable to either inhale sufficient oxygen or successfully remove all of the carbon dioxide from the body. The latter can disrupt the acid-base balance in the body.


Some common causes of respiratory failure include:


The following are symptoms of respiratory failure:

Diagnostic Evaluation

The following tests may be ordered to help form a diagnosis:


Because this is an emergency condition, treatment may include the following:


The prognosis of respiratory failure depends upon its cause and severity.


Because smoking causes many of the lung diseases that lead to respiratory failure, it is best to not smoke and if you do, to quit immediately.

For more information on smoking cessation visit About.com's Quit Smoking site.

Other preventive methods include losing weight, if obese, and not combining medications with alcohol.

When to Contact a Healthcare Professional

Respiratory failure is a true medical emergency. Seek immediate medical attention if you have symptoms of this condition.


A.D.A.M. http://adam.about.net/encyclopedia/infectiousdiseases/Respiratory-acidosis.htm.

Smeltzer, S., Bare, B. Textbook of Medical-Surgical Nursing. Lippincott. 1996.

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