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Respiratory insufficiency: what is it, types, symptoms and treatment

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Respiratory insufficiency is a syndrome in which the lungs present difficulty in carrying out normal gas exchanges, not being able to adequately oxygenate the blood or not being able to eliminate the excess of carbon dioxide, or both.

When this happens, the person may develop symptoms such as intense shortness of breath, bluish color in the fingers and excessive tiredness.

There are two main types of respiratory failure:



  • Accute breathing insufficiency: it appears suddenly due to the obstruction of las vías respiratorias, traffic accidents, drug abuse or ACV, for example.

  • Chronic respiratory failure: arises a long time ago due to other chronic illnesses, such as EPOC, which prevents carrying out daily activities, such as climbing stairs without feeling short of breath.

Respiratory insufficiency is cured when the treatment is started immediately at the hospital, therefore, it is important to go to the hospital when the first signs of shortness of breath appear. In addition, in chronic patients, respiratory failure can be avoided with the treatment of the disease from the beginning.

Main Symptoms

The symptoms of respiratory insufficiency can vary according to the cause, as well as the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the body. However, the most common include:



  • Sensation of lack of air;

  • Blue colored skin, lips and nails;

  • Rapid breathing;

  • mental confusion;

  • Excessive tiredness and drowsiness;

  • Irregular heart barking.

These symptoms can appear slowly, in the case of chronic respiratory insufficiency or appear intensely and from one moment to the other, in the case of an acute situation.

In any case, whenever changes are identified at the respiratory level, it is very important to go to the hospital or consult a neumonologist, to confirm the diagnosis and initiate the most appropriate treatment.

How is the diagnosis performed?

The diagnosis of respiratory insufficiency is usually carried out by a general physician or a neumonologist, although it can also be carried out by a cardiologist when it arises as a result of some cardiac alteration.

In most cases, this diagnosis can be carried out only with the evaluation of the symptoms, the clinical history of the person and the monitoring of their vital signs, in addition, it is possible to carry out a gasometry in a sample of blood, to evaluate the amounts of oxygen and carbon dioxide.

When there is no apparent cause for the appearance of the insufficiency, the doctor may order a chest X-ray to identify if there is any lung problem that could be causing the alteration.

Possible causes of respiratory failure

Any illness or condition that directly or indirectly affects the lung can cause respiratory failure. Some of the most common causes include:

  • Muscular dystrophy or other alterations that affect the nerves of the respiratory muscles;

  • Drug use, especially in the case of an overdose;

  • Pulmonary diseases such as COPD, asthma, pneumonia or embolism;

  • Inhalation of humus or other irritating agents.

Also, some heart problems, such as heart failure, may have sequelae to respiratory failure, especially when treatment is not carried out properly.

Treatment for respiratory failure

The treatment for acute respiratory failure should be carried out as quickly as possible at the hospital and therefore, it is important to immediately call an ambulance by the emergency number, whenever signs of difficulty in breathing appear.

In order to treat respiratory insufficiency, it is necessary to stabilize the patient, supply oxygen through a mask and monitor his vital signs and, depending on the cause of the symptoms, initiate specific treatment.

However, in cases of chronic respiratory insufficiency, the treatment must be carried out daily with medication to treat the problem of origin, which can be EPOC, for example, and avoid the appearance of symptoms, such as severe lack of air that puts in danger the patient’s life.

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Consult a Doctor | Translated by User2937

Content for educational purposes only

The translator user relied on the following text:

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Disclaimer – (English version>) This content has been prepared based on information from research, additional publications, or the translation/verification work of a volunteer editor of this web council. This is a non-profit service. It is strongly recommended that all details and information published be carefully verified. We never allow medication recommendations, medication package inserts or any medication guidance. We never allow partisan politics as information.

Isenção de responsabilidade – (versão em português): Este conteúdo foi preparado com base em informações de pesquisas, publicações adicionais ou no trabalho de tradução/verificação de um editor voluntário deste conselho web. Este é um serviço sem fins lucrativos. É altamente recomendável que todos os detalhes e informações publicadas sejam verificadas cuidadosamente. Nunca permitimos recomendações de medicamentos, bulas ou qualquer orientação sobre medicamentos. Nunca permitimos a política partidária como base para checagem. Para mais informações, leia nossos termos.

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