Respiratory failure

Last revised by Arlene Campos on 19 Jan 2024

Respiratory failure is a term to denote when the respiratory system fails in one or both of its gas exchange functions: oxygenation and carbon dioxide elimination. This results in arterial oxygen and/or carbon dioxide levels being unable to be maintained within their normal ranges. While it is not directly a radiological topic, it is useful to understand its general concepts.


Respiratory failure may arise from a fault in any of the components of the respiratory system, and can, therefore, involve a problem in the lower airways (trachea-bronchi), alveoli, central nervous system (CNS), peripheral nervous system (PNS), respiratory muscles, and/or chest wall.


It is broadly divided into two main subtypes:

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