Respiratory acidosis (patient information)
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Respiratory acidosis is a condition that occurs when the lungs cannot remove all of the carbon dioxide the body produces. This disrupts the body's acid-base balance causing body fluids, especially the blood, to become too acidic.
What are the symptoms of Respiratory acidosis?
Symptoms may include:
What causes Respiratory acidosis?
Causes of respiratory acidosis include:
- Diseases of the airways (such as asthma and chronic obstructive lung disease), which send air into and out of the lungs
- Diseases of the chest (such as sarcoidosis), which make the lungs less efficient at filling and emptying
- Diseases affecting the nerves and muscles that "signal" the lungs to inflate or deflate
- Drugs that suppress breathing (including powerful pain medicines, such as narcotics, and "downers," such as benzodiazepines), especially when combined with alcohol
- Severe obesity, which restricts how much the lungs can expand
Chronic respiratory acidosis occurs over a long period of time. This leads to a stable situation because the kidneys increase body chemicals, such as bicarbonate, that helps restore the body's acid-base balance.
Acute respiratory acidosis is a severe condition in which carbon dioxide builds up very quickly and before the kidneys can return the body to a state of balance.
Who is at highest risk?
Patients who are suffering from any condition listed above have the highest risk of developing respiratory acidosis.
- Arterial blood gas (measures levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood; in respiratory acidosis, the level of carbon dioxide is too high)
- Chest x-ray
- Pulmonary function test
When to seek urgent medical care?
Severe respiratory acidosis is a medical emergency. Seek immediate medical help if you have symptoms of this condition.
Call your healthcare provider if you have symptoms of lung disease.
Treatment is aimed at the underlying lung disease, and may include:
- Bronchodilator drugs to reverse some types of airway obstruction
- Noninvasive positive-pressure ventilation (sometimes called CPAP or BiPAP) or mechanical ventilation if needed
- Oxygen if the blood oxygen level is low
- Treatment to stop smoking
Where to find medical care for Respiratory acidosis?
- Do not smoke. Smoking leads to the development of many severe lung diseases that can cause respiratory acidosis.
- Losing weight may help prevent respiratory acidosis due to obesity (obesity-hypoventilation syndrome).
- Be careful about taking sedating medicines, and never combine these medicines with alcohol.
What to expect (Outlook/Prognosis)?
How well you do depends on the disease causing the respiratory acidosis.