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My Dad COPD and CO2 retention


This is the first time I've done this, I'm hoping to find someone who understands what's happeneing to my father, He has COPD I think he is in the final stages, he has been on oxygen for about 18 months, and he keeps having episodes of CO2 retention, the last one was yesterday, he went into a kind of coma, and I thougt he was dying, but the hospital managed to bring him round eventually with this air machine and adrenalin, but he is now very muddled, seeing things that aren't there and angry, this is not the first time but it is the worst, I feel like he has had mild strokes, but no one seems to know. Is this normal? Does anyone know if this CO2 retention causes damage to the brain, as he seems to lose a little of himself with each time, when I left him at the hospital this afternoon he couldn't remember where he lived and he thought we had put him in a home. Does anyone know if this is part of COPD?


26 Replies

  • Guest Guest

    Hi, I have been working with a COPD sufferer full time for 2 years and for the prior 15 years part time (keeping a full time job and doing what I could after work and at weekends) in this time I have never seen CO2 retention.

    We have heard about it and been warned about it but it has never happened to us.

    You say dad is on oxygen , if the dose is too high that will effect the way the lungs work, they will only have to work in “shallow” breaths to give the body enough oxygen therefore will not blow out all the CO2 that will then build up in the body.

    As I see it, and please check with a doc before making any changes,

    You need to make sure your dad is getting the right dose of oxygen too much is worse than too little.

    Get a physiotherapist to teach you dad how the breath, that sounds daft but you will be surprised, deep breathing for a few mins 2 or 3 times a day will expel excess Co2

    One “test” that we use is to hold your arms out with your hands at 90 degrees (back of your hands facing you) if your hands tend to tilt back towards you then this could due be CO2 retention. Another test is the blood gas check they do in the A&E.

    Sorry I can’t be any more help at the mo but will do a bit of research and if anything new comes up I will post it. please let us know how you get on.


  • Tessa Tessa

    Thanks Gil,

    I went out in the car with my Husband for a meal at Sainsburys today.

    When we arrived home, I remembered what you said and I opened the car door and let the cold air in the car and sat there for a few minutes. Then when I felt ready I got out and stood up, but stood still for a few minutes. When I did walk up to the front door, amazingly I wasn't gasping for breath. Wonderful advice and it really works.


  • Guest Guest

    Thank you for taking the time to relply. Unfortunately my Dad passed away yesterday. He did used to turn his oxygen up when he felt he couldn't breath but we stopped him from doing that once we knew how bad it was, but the CO2 kept building up. He never came out of hospital this time.

    People on here seem to talk about having COPD for many years, my Dad was only diagnosed about 18 months ago, and he had stopped smoking about 10 years before.

    I feel sad but at least his suffering is now over

  • sianeira sianeira

    Dear Cherripip and all

    I am just trawling through some information to make sense of stuff. My mum died yesterday, COPD and like your Dad, CO2 retention and oxygen etc etc were an issue. She was sometimes confused, sometimes lucid, but mostly I know she knew we were there which is important for us, I don't think she was too aware of how gravely ill she was really - I hope not anyway.

    Best wishes to you, it is a difficult thing to go through.

  • Tessa Tessa

    Dear Cherripip,

    May I say how very sorry I am to hear your sad news. It is a horrible thing to have to watch a loved one suffer in this way. Yes, some of us have COPD for many years and struggle through. I am sorry your Dad only had the 18 months.

    Now Cherrpip. you did all you could for him and now you have to look after yourself.


    May I offer my condolances on the loss of your Mother. I'm sure she knew you were there all the time and probably did not know quite how bad she was, but like I said to Cherripip, it is important that you look after yourself now. It's quite traumatic to see a loved one go like that.

    My Best wishes to you both and thank you for bringing the issue of CO2 retention to our notice. I had not heard of it before.

    Take care both of you


  • Coughdrop Coughdrop

    Hi to everyone especially those who have lost loved ones to copd. I lost my sister 25th August this year so I know how you feel. She was diagnosed with cancer of the throat in May and what with the copd her body couldn't take anymore. She was too weak for chemo so her last few months were just taking morphine and tablets. I went to see her mid-sept (she lived in the north of england 250miles away) and I was glad I did. I knew then she wouldn't last long but it gave me a chance to talk, laugh, and cry with her one last time. She was taken into hospital with bronchitis and then moved to the hospice for pain relief. I rang on the Sunday and they said she was fine having a bit of dinner. Then Monday I rang spoke to the Dr who said she thinks shes had enough. So off I journied to see her, sadly she passed away before I got there. I can only say how relieved I was that she had finally left all pain behind. Although the shock and grief is still there, I comfort myself that she is with my Dad and Mum and her son. I really believe that the people who are ill know how they feel themselves. I like to think they find a kind of peace towards the end. It is the ones that are left behind who will always remember the worry and stress and hurts that they have been through. This is why it is most important to talk to somebody and look after yourselves as that is when you really feel drained of all feelings. Just try to think of the relief from suffering for your loved one and also yourself. Things will start to get back to normal as time goes on and one day you will wake and think of what you have to do today and not what has happened in the past. Take care all of you. Marie

  • Bamperoony Bamperoony

    My wife and I both suffer from COPD although hers is much more severe than mine and she spends most of her time attached to her Oxygen concentrator except when she is sleeping. I always take her a cup of tea in the morning before I go to work and recently she has been telling me about hallucinations she has been having during the night. Since reading this experience I am starting to wonder, could she be suffering the early stages of CO2 retention and, if so, what can I do about it?

  • Coughdrop Coughdrop

    Hi there

    If you look at its a web site that deals with all sorts of questions.

    You can put COPD in your search at the top for more info. If you put CO2 in to search you can read all about it. It tells you what it is and how it affects the body. You might find this useful reading. If you are that worried I would talk to your Dr, but sometimes reading up a little before hand helps you ask the right questions or understand the answers better.

    I hope this helps you a little. Take care.

  • gil dixon gil dixon

    Ok I have only just read this post and the advice below this is only based on what we have learnt and by monitoring anything we do.

    The body slows down when sleeping therefore takes in less O2 due to shallow respiratory function and slower hart beat.

    We found that without oxygen at night, every hour or so the sufferer woke up distressed and having bad dreams, we believe that the brain was being starved of oxygen and woke the person up to speed things up so it gets enough oxygen. We stopped this by using oxygen at night at 2L/min. we checked everything as we went along.

    We found that the blood oxygen was down to around 70 to 80% and the hart rate up around 120 without oxygen at night but with oxygen at 2L/min when sleeping the rates are 97 to 98% and hart rate around 79, the person also slept for 6 to 8 hours without any bad dreams .

    I suggest you try oxygen at 2L/min when sleeping, if you are on oxygen during the day it will not do any harm in fact we have found it has more benefits if used in this way.

    I have posted at length on this site about our findings in O2 usage, we have never had any problems with Co2 retention, we believe Co2 is retained if oxygen dosages are too high and or breathing patens are incorrect (short shallow breathing is bad) when relaxed the person should try to use deep breathing, long and slow, if only for a few mins at first.

    Hope this helps, a pulse ox monitor would be a handy tool to have, you can pick one up for around £60, in our case it has been a life saver more times than I could tell you


    • alicia83943 alicia83943 gil dixon

      Gil, whilst your information is most interesting, I have to stress to anyone reading your advice that it is really not at all advisable to alter their oxygen flow/dose without the expert advice of their Specialist Respiratory Nurse, or Respiratory Consultant. Each COPD sufferer has individual variation in the way in which their respiratory and circulatory systems deal with the delicate regulation of oxygen and carbon dioxide. So whilst this generalised advice may well have an anecdotal evidence base, it may not be safe for some individuals. Also, the oxygen saturation monitoring device to which you make reference is more accurately known as a 'pulse oximeter'.

  • Guest Guest


    my dad had copd and he suffered with co2 retention as well, from the things that happened to my dad, your dad sounds very smillar, we were told by the doctors that co2 retention does cause brain damage and i had to agree with them because by the end my dad was a very different person

    he lost his temper very easily, forgot alot

    the important thing is that they dont increase there oxygen to much as more o2 = more co2, we knew when he was retaining co2 as he would get even more confused looked very red and have purple lips, the important thing to rember is that co2 can kill if left unnotticed within 24 hours, so if your in doubt call either your community matrons or call the emergency services,

    is your dad using a machine called a BI-PAP because this helps force the co2 out the body over night and it did help improve my dads life a lot for a good few months

    i hope this helps!

    my dad passed away on the 31st/12/08

    and it was awful but i no he is at peace now

  • mosergirl26 mosergirl26 Guest


    My mom is having the same problem with her co2. Last Monday she was taken by ambulance to hospital for her COPD when she got to the er she ended up goin into Cardiac Arrest and put in an iduced coma to be life flighted when my mom first got to the er her co2 levels was 167. she was transfered and put on lifesupport woke up 2 days later and co2 levels went down shes been in the hospital for a week now and the hospital has no answers for us just that its her COPD shes been on and off life support tube down her throat cuz her co2 levels keep going up. i d know that when she was home she had her oxygen all the way up. i havent had much time with my mom and im not ready to let her go yet shes still young. please need advice.

  • paulbt2008 paulbt2008 Guest

    Hi there, i was looking for info also, im 37 and have alpha1 tripiline defficency, i have lung volume reduction srurgery 4 yrs ago, but now its deterioating, its now im on a oxygen machine, which i hardly use, but i am getting terrible co2 poisoning as i can tell when my headaches start, the docs put me on NIV which eases it up, but iv noticed the head aches are geting much worse... i think im coping but when friends see me they keep checking as i apparantly look bad. i dont like to pester my doctors as im sure more urgent cases are out there, and as im coping i dont know what to do. i know lung transplant is available if im suitable, but after the last bout of surgery on my lungs i dont know, maybe it would b easier to just take a lot of morphine an go the easy way, im not depressed am just frustrated as dont know how to sort it out,

    sorry if am rambling on 


    • Vee2 Vee2 paulbt2008

      hI Paul, this post is over a year old so I am not sure if 'Guest' is still around.  

      Reading your post, you say you don't know how to sort it out, that's because you need professional help and guidance.  So don't think you are pestering your doctor, go see him/her, get referral back to the specialist, explain your symptoms, what you are doing, not doing, not able to do, start recording the frequency of your headaches, time of day etc, if you had oxygen or didn't have.

      Oxygen should be as perscribed to you.  If you turn the literage too high this could cause you a headache, if you are oxygen deprived this will not only result in a headache but long term you could be doing yourself more harm.  Do go back to see your doctor and ask for a referral back to the Alpha 1 team of specialists, to get your oxygen levels checked out properly and for other checks.

      In UK or overseas, search for Alpha1 followed by the country you reside, there will be websites, helplines, forums to advise you further but I think it is very important you check in with your doctor asap concerning your symptoms.

  • thesis79 thesis79 Guest

    My dad too is a COPD sufferer and a C02 retainer he is currently in hospital i rushed him in on monday and he's now in ICU hoping to come out but very sad cause i hope and think he realizes the seriousness of this after years of hospital visits. He is also a disabetic sufferer too and only 62 turning 63 in august any suggestions please?

    • RDan RDan thesis79

      This is my first post on this forum my father in law has copd, diabetes and is morbidly obese. He has been hospitalized several times, last time was for Co2 poison it caused an infection around his heart. He is home now but is disoriented, do you happen to have any experience with that? I'm assuming there's a lack of oxygen. What is a Co2 retainer?

    • Vee2 Vee2 thesis79

      In these situations its really down to your Dad listening to what the medical professionals advise him to do, and doing what is recommended, with health vulnerabilities like diabetis in addition to COPD.  Check with the hospital if he needs to access OT visits at home, community matron to help him back on his feet and from there he may be able to progress to a pulmonary rehabilitation course (by GP or hospital referral).  But there is always a need for the patient to participate in their own health management and recovery.  I do hope things improve for your Dad real soon. 

      If your Dad is willing and the medics recommend a pulmonary rehabilitation course will help him manage his symptoms and illness and once the course completed and things learnt applied to every day life, it can enable a far better quality of life.

    • RDan RDan Vee2

      I saw your response to thesis79, I'm not sure if you read my post but my father in law has copd, he's a diabetic and is morbidly obese. He hasn't stood to walk in over years 2 years, he still smokes and ignores his diet. It's frustrating to watch someone not be apart of helping themselves. I just wanted to ask about Co2 poison and Co2 retention. He was hospitalized last month with an infection around his heart, they said it was from Co2 poison. He's at home now but is talking out of his head. No one has ever mentioned the pulmonary rehabilitation before, I'll pass that to my mother in law, frankly I think, OT is a waste of time, he's not active in his recovery , wish he was, it's hurtful to watch my husband hurt because his dad won't help himself

    • RDan RDan Vee2

      I saw your response to thesis79, I'm not sure if you read my post but my father in law has copd, he's a diabetic and is morbidly obese. He hasn't stood to walk in over years 2 years, he still smokes and ignores his diet. It's frustrating to watch someone not be apart of helping themselves. I just wanted to ask about Co2 poison and Co2 retention. He was hospitalized last month with an infection around his heart, they said it was from Co2 poison. He's at home now but is talking out of his head. No one has ever mentioned the pulmonary rehabilitation before, I'll pass that to my mother in law, frankly I think, OT is a waste of time, he's not active in his recovery , wish he was, it's hurtful to watch my husband hurt because his dad won't help himself

    • RDan RDan Vee2

      I saw your post to thesis79, I posted for my first time last night. My father in law, has copd, diabetes, and is morbidly obese. He hasn't stood in over 2 years. He was hospitalized last month for infection around his heart. Drs say it was Co2 poison. He doesnt participate at all with his health, still smokes,etc. It's frustrating to watch. He's now talking out of his head, which I'm asduming is lack of oxygen. I'm just curious about Co2 poison and Co2 retention, I've never heard of pulmonary rehab, I'm going to pass that along. Thanks

    • Vee2 Vee2 RDan

      I expect if PR was mentioned to your father in law he probably wouldn't go for it either since it teaches patients what helps and what doesn't and it includes exercise which does need to be ongoing for any COPd patient who wishes to try and slow down or halt the progress of COPD that and stopping smoking, are the most important in order to help keep the condition stable and improve quality of life.  

      I suspect he has CO2 poisoning / retention because he is still smoking, not exercising and therefore not breathing well enough to maximise his, gas exchange with what lung function he has.  Both stopping smoking and regular exercise help patients enjoy a better quality of life.

      So sorry that your father in law is not achieving the best quality of life he could if he wished to.  Nothing is without effort if patients want to enjoy an improved state of wellbeing that goes for us all.   But you know its his choice in the end, it just means he will likely not live as long as he could and he will continue to have repeated hospital stays.  Every cigarette causes more lung damage, more lun damage means more difficulty breathing and more exacerbations / lung infections and hospitalization.

      Nothing anyone can do I am afraid if the patient is unwilling.

      Feel for your husband, just try to support him the best way you can and for your husband to enjoy the time with his father they way he wants to be with the time they spend together.


    • Vee2 Vee2 RDan

      C02 retention occurs when the lungs are damage to the point they have difficulty of emptying the lungs of co2, ie we breathe in oxygen and we breath out co2.

      CO2 poisoining is when the blood has more co2 than the body can cope with, ie the body needs oxygen to keep all the organs healthy when co2 is excessive it means the organs and health can be seriously impared.

      Not excercising, moving, and continued smoking are not helpful for his, body functioning.  But I guess you know that already.

    • RDan RDan Vee2

      Thank you, and I know you are right. It's very frustrating. passed from cancer, fought to live, it's hard to watch a person not do anything. You have people who fight to live, then have people who could simply stop smoking, eat right and exercise, such a shame something that easy and he won't do it. Like I said, my husband is who I feel for, losing a parent is so hard. Just hate, he has to go through it when it could've been avoided, at least for a few more years.

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  • maggie1231 maggie1231 Guest


    My sister has the same problem. Unless she where her bypap machine she retains co2. I was told that a trache would have to be put in to resolve the problem. But honestly what quality of life would that be for them?. She can't be off bypap doe anymore than two hours. Her mental status decreases when c02 builds up. Very hard to watch someone you love suffer like this.

  • rosie33839 rosie33839 Guest

    My husband has been battling COPD for 5 years it's gotten worse this past 2 years! Yes, C02 can affect the brain, when they're  C02 is very high, they are having less oxygen to the brain! ThTs where their confusion come in! 

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