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Chronic Respiratory Failure


Chronic respiratory failure (CRF) is a long-term condition that happens when your lungs cannot get enough oxygen into your blood. Your heart, brain, and other organs depend on the oxygen to work properly. CRF 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. CRF happens may develop over a period of days or years.


Call 911 for any of the following:

  • You feel lightheaded or you develop a sudden cold sweat, especially with chest pain or trouble breathing.
  • You are having more trouble catching your breath (you cannot speak in full sentences).
  • You cough up blood.

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • You have a fever.
  • You have new symptoms or your symptoms get worse.
  • You have swelling in your legs or ankles.
  • You gain 3 or more pounds (1.4 kg) in a week (or more than your healthcare provider says you should).
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.


  • Use your oxygen as directed. You may need extra oxygen if your blood oxygen level is lower than it should be.
  • Do not smoke and avoid others who smoke. If you smoke, it is never too late to quit. You are likely to live longer and breathe easier if you quit smoking. Ask for information about medicines and support programs that can help you quit. Being around others who smoke can also make your symptoms worse.
  • Prevent infections. Get a flu vaccine every year as soon as it becomes available. Ask your healthcare provider if you should also get vaccines to prevent pneumonia, whooping cough, tetanus, and diphtheria. Avoid people who are sick, and wash your hands often.
  • Use pursed-lip breathing any time you feel short of breath. Take a deep breath in through your nose. Slowly breathe out through your mouth with your lips pursed for twice as long as you inhaled. You can also practice this breathing pattern while you bend, lift, climb stairs, or exercise. It slows down your breathing and helps move more air in and out of your lungs.
    Breathe in Breathe out
  • Prepare for emergencies. Keep phone numbers for your healthcare provider, hospital, and someone close to you with you at all times. Also, keep a list of the medicines you take.
  • Go to pulmonary rehabilitation (rehab). Your healthcare provider may suggest pulmonary rehab. Pulmonary rehab will educate you about your condition and will help you improve your quality of life.

Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:

You may need more tests or treatments. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

Further information

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

Learn more about Chronic Respiratory Failure (Discharge Care)

Associated drugs

Micromedex® Care Notes