Hypercapnia

Hypercapnia is the condition in which there is increased level of carbon dioxide in blood. This condition is closely associated with hypoxemia (low level of oxygen) which causes breathing difficulty. It is customary to inhale oxygen and exhale Co2. But due to some medical conditions, the process of normal respiration gets disturbed causing high level of carbon dioxide. (Normal level is 45 mm of Hg). Hypercapnia is an emergency medical condition and the patient needs to be hospitalized for immediate treatment.

Causes :

Loss of consciousness, lung disease, COPD, hyperventilation, overdose of drugs and repeated seizures can cause hypercapnia. Sometimes, it can be caused due to formation of lesions or bumps in the brain which may block the nerve signals of respiration. Even the condition of obstructive sleep apnea can cause hypercapnia. Sometimes it can be caused due weakness in the skeletal muscles.

If the person is kept exposed to higher levels of carbon dioxide for long time, it can trigger hypercapnia. This condition can also be caused due to initial inhalation of supplementary oxygen by a patient with underlying medical problems like sleep apnea.

Symptoms :

Some of the common signs of hypercapnia are rapid breathing, difficulty in breathing, drowsiness, headache, inability to think and sleepiness. All the above symptoms are indicative of respiratory failure and the affected person should be immediately hospitalized. In some people, there may be dizziness, flushed skin, increased heart rate, palpitation and muscle twitches.

Treatment :

The doctor will first examine the patient and act rapidly to give treatment depending on the condition of the patient and severity of hypercapnia.

Non invasive ventilation therapy is given for patients who suffer from chronic problems of respiration. It can be in the form of CPAP or BiPAP to control the respiratory failure. In this method, artificial ventilation is provided to the patient by means of upper airways. It would certainly improve the breathing process if the patient cannot breathe. A tight fitting mask is placed on the nose of the patient and a mixture of oxygen and air is sent through the nasal mask. This procedure is called non-invasive positive pressure ventilation. The patient will be given continuous supply of oxygen till he restores normal respiration.

However this procedure is not suited for all patients with breathing problem and your doctor should decide the course of treatment.

Mechanical ventilation is yet another method wherein machines are used for supporting breathing. A long tube is inserted into the person’s mouth or nose and is pushed into the lungs through which oxygen is pumped. It is also known as endo-tracheal intubation. This process is followed for patients who have lost normal respiration due to illness or sudden injury. The same procedure is implemented when a person is operated surgically under local anesthesia.

In case respiratory problem is due to drug overdose, then antidote medicines are given in the form of naloxone and flumazenil. If needed, cardiopulmonary resuscitation is done for the patient during emergency.

People who have chronic problems like asthma and bronchitis and emphysema are treated with artificial respiratory methods. The main aim of giving treatment is to increase the oxygen level and decrease the CO2 levels in the lungs. It would also reverse hyperventilation thus facilitating normal breathing pattern of the patient.

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