What are the differences between acute and chronic respiratory failure?

Updated: Apr 07, 2020
  • Author: Ata Murat Kaynar, MD; Chief Editor: Michael R Pinsky, MD, CM, Dr(HC), FCCP, FAPS, MCCM  more...
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Answer

Respiratory failure may be further classified as either acute or chronic. Although acute respiratory failure is characterized by life-threatening derangements in arterial blood gases and acid-base status, the manifestations of chronic respiratory failure are less dramatic and may not be as readily apparent.

Acute hypercapnic respiratory failure develops over minutes to hours; therefore, pH is less than 7.3. Chronic respiratory failure develops over several days or longer, allowing time for renal compensation and an increase in bicarbonate concentration. Therefore, the pH usually is only slightly decreased.

The distinction between acute and chronic hypoxemic respiratory failure cannot readily be made on the basis of arterial blood gases. The clinical markers of chronic hypoxemia, such as polycythemia or cor pulmonale, suggest a long-standing disorder.


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