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Acute Respiratory Failure

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jun 5, 2024.

What is acute respiratory failure (ARF)?

ARF is a condition that happens when your lungs cannot get enough oxygen into your blood. ARF can also happen when your lungs cannot get the carbon dioxide out of your blood. A buildup of carbon dioxide in your blood can cause damage to your organs. The decrease in oxygen and the buildup of carbon dioxide can happen at the same time. Acute respiratory failure may develop in minutes, hours, or days.

The Lungs

What increases my risk for ARF?

What are the symptoms of ARF?

Symptoms depend on the kind of ARF you have, and if it is mild, moderate, or severe:

How is ARF diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and when they began. Tests do not always diagnose ARF. Your provider will also look for signs of medical conditions that may mean you have ARF. Examples include cor pulmonale and pulmonary hypertension. You may need any of the following:

How is ARF treated?

Treatment depends on the cause and how severe your symptoms are. You may need any of the following:

What can I do to manage or prevent shortness of breath?

What can I do to manage ARF?

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) or have someone call if:

When should I call my doctor?

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.