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Respiratory acidosis

Ventilatory failure; Respiratory failure; Acidosis - respiratory

Respiratory acidosis is a condition that occurs when your lungs can’t remove all of the carbon dioxide produced by your body. This causes the blood and other body fluids to become too acidic.

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Respiratory system

Causes

There are many causes of respiratory acidosis, including:

Chronic respiratory acidosis occurs over a long time. This leads to a stable situation, because the kidneys increase body chemicals, such as bicarbonate, that help restore the body's acid-base balance.

Acute respiratory acidosis occurs when carbon dioxide builds up very quickly, before the kidneys can return the body to a state of balance.

Some people with chronic respiratory acidosis get acute respiratory acidosis when a serious illness worsens their condition and disrupts their body's acid-base balance.

Symptoms

Symptoms may include:

Exams and Tests

Your health care provider will perform a physical exam and ask about symptoms.

You may have certain tests, including:

Treatment

Treatment is aimed at the underlying disease, and may include:

If your case is severe, you may need to be put on a breathing machine (ventilator).

Outlook (Prognosis)

How well you do depends on the disease causing the respiratory acidosis.

Possible Complications

Complications may include:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Severe acute respiratory acidosis is a medical emergency. Seek medical help right away if you have symptoms of this condition.

Call your provider if you have symptoms of lung disease that suddenly get worse.

Prevention

DO NOT smoke. Smoking can lead to 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.

Use your CPAP device regularly if it has been prescribed for you.

Related Information

Asthma
Breathing difficulty
Obesity hypoventilation syndrome (OHS)

References

McCoin NS, Self WH. Acid-base disorders. In: Walls RM, ed. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2023:chap 113.

Sanghavi S, Albert TJ, Swenson ER. Acid-base balance. In: Broaddus VC, Ernst JD, King TE, et al, eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 12.

Seifter JL. Acid-base disorders. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 110.

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Review Date: 7/31/2022  

Reviewed By: Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, MHS, Paul F. Harron Jr. Professor of Medicine, Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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