Respiratory acidosis

Respir Care. 2001 Apr;46(4):366-83.


Respiratory acidosis, or primary hypercapnia, is the acid-base disorder that results from an increase in arterial partial pressure of carbon dioxide. Acute respiratory acidosis occurs with acute (Type II) respiratory failure, which can result from any sudden respiratory parenchymal (eg, pulmonary edema), airways (eg, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or asthma), pleural, chest wall, neuromuscular (eg, spinal cord injury), or central nervous system event (eg, drug overdose). Chronic respiratory acidosis can result from numerous processes and is typified by a sustained increase in arterial partial pressure of carbon dioxide, resulting in renal adaptation, and a more marked increase in plasma bicarbonate. Mechanisms of respiratory acidosis include increased carbon dioxide production, alveolar hypoventilation, abnormal respiratory drive, abnormalities of the chest wall and respiratory muscles, and increased dead space. Although the symptoms, signs, and physiologic consequences of respiratory acidosis are numerous, the principal effects are on the central nervous and cardiovascular systems. Treatment for respiratory acidosis may include invasive or noninvasive ventilatory support and specific medical therapies directed at the underlying pathophysiology.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acidosis, Respiratory / diagnosis
  • Acidosis, Respiratory / etiology
  • Acidosis, Respiratory / physiopathology*
  • Acidosis, Respiratory / therapy
  • Alkalies / therapeutic use
  • Carbon Dioxide / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hypercapnia / physiopathology
  • Lung Diseases, Obstructive / physiopathology
  • Obesity, Morbid
  • Oxygen Inhalation Therapy / adverse effects
  • Respiratory Dead Space
  • Risk Factors


  • Alkalies
  • Carbon Dioxide