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Comprehensive approach to chronic respiratory diseases and home respiratory therapy, including definitions and tips. Understand how our solutions can contribute to improving the quality of life of affected people.

Chronic Respiratory Failure: What is it?

It is a condition that results in the inability of the lungs to maintain normal levels of O² (Oxygen) and CO² (carbon dioxide) in the blood. It is usually caused by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), but other conditions can also cause respiratory failure, such as interstitial lung disease, cystic fibrosis, severe chronic asthma, congenital heart disease, advanced lung cancer, pulmonary hypertension or motor neuron diseases (ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) etc. 

Respiratory disease affects one in five people and is the third biggest cause of death in England (after cancer and cardiovascular disease). Lung cancer, pneumonia  and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are the biggest causes of death.

Types of Chronic Respiratory Failure

  • Obstructive respiratory failure results from a partial obstruction of the airways, which leads to difficulty exhaling all of the air from the lungs that reduces the flow of oxygen. The most common conditions causing obstructive respiratory failure are chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma or cystic fibrosis.
  • Restrictive respiratory failure, in contrast, is related to a reduced total lung capacity, which can be due to a condition that causes lung stiffness, muscle weakness, or physical restriction.

Learn about the Diagnosis

Read more about the common testing procedures that may be used to accurately diagnose the conditions:

  • Pulse oximetry estimates the amount of oxygen in the blood, also called oxygen saturation (SpO²). This test can indicate if the blood oxygen level is too low (SpO2²<88%).
  • Arterial blood gas analysis is used to accurately measure the level of oxygen (or PaO²) and carbon dioxide (or PaCO²)  in the blood.
  • Spirometry and pulmonary function testing: evaluates lung capacity and volumes in order to detect the type of disease and the severity.
  • Cardiac assessment by electrocardiogram and ultrasound.

Tips to help living better

Some lifestyle changes could be helpful to improve daily life. They can be complemented by treatments such as chest physiotherapy (to help to drain the lungs) or drug treatments for comfort and stabilization of the disease.

  • Eliminate risk factors such as quitting smoking, avoiding aggravating factors such as secondhand smoke, pollution and over medication that can harm your breathing with medical determination.
  • Adopt a balanced diet;
  • Practice physical activity regularly: it will help you to prevent muscle wasting and preserve your freedom and autonomy. 


StatPearls: “Respiratory Failure.” Eman Shebl et al, 2022.

National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: "Respiratory Failure". 

Respiratory disease, NHS.  O'Driscoll BR, Howard LS, Earis J on behalf of the BTS Emergency Oxygen Guideline Development Group, et al.

British Thoracic Society Guideline for oxygen use in adults in healthcare and emergency settingsBMJ Open Respiratory Research 2017;4:e000170. doi: 10.1136/bmjresp-2016-000170