Respiratory Failure - Complications

Authored by Dr Gurvinder Rull, 06 Jul 2017

Patient is a certified member of
The Information Standard

Reviewed by:
Prof Cathy Jackson, 06 Jul 2017

As a result of respiratory failure various complications can occur, including:

  • Lung complications: for example, a blood clot on the lung (pulmonary embolism), irreversible scarring of the lungs (pulmonary fibrosis), a collection of air between the lung and chest wall (pneumothorax) which can further compromise breathing, chronic respiratory failure and dependence on a ventilator.
  • Heart complications: for example, heart failure, fluid around the heart (pericarditis) and acute heart attack.
  • Increase in blood count (called polycythaemia): the increased level of red cells occurs from low blood oxygen levels but can lead to blood clots, due to sluggish flow in the blood vessels.
  • Neurological complications: a prolonged period of low blood oxygen levels can deprive the brain of oxygen, which may be irreversible and may present as coma, fits (seizures) and even brain death.
  • Prolonged hospital admissions can lead to the following complications:
    • Hospital-acquired infections: for example, pneumonia and diarrhoea. A pneumonia is likely to put further strain on the respiratory function and can require a need for further ventilation.
    • Malnutrition which may require assisted feeding methods, such as a tube being inserted down the nose into the stomach (nasogastric feeding), or providing nutrition through a needle straight into the bloodstream. Both of these methods have complications of their own.
    • Complications from being bed bound for long periods: wasting of limbs with associated weakness, pressure sores, deep vein thrombosis and mental depression.

How well a patient does depends on several factors, including age, the underlying cause and whether it is treatable, the speed of diagnosis and presence of any other illnesses and complications.

Smoking is a key factor in many cases of respiratory failure and stopping smoking and/or never smoking are important to prevent respiratory failure.

I have phlegm being produced, especially at night, I feel my chest being tight.And phlegm reaching my throat. Its hard to sleep initially due to this problem.

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