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Respiratory acidosis

  • Definition

    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.


    Alternative Names

    Ventilatory failure; Respiratory failure; Acidosis - respiratory


    Causes, incidence, and risk factors

    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 help 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.