Hypercapnia, also called hypercarbia, is a condition when there is too much carbon dioxide in a person's bloodstream. This may cause dizziness, fatigue and trouble breathing. Hypercapnia can be caused by different respiratory conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which prevents a person's lungs from either taking in enough oxygen or expelling (breathing out) enough CO2. If the symptoms of hypercapnia are mild, the body can often control itself, gasping or taking deep breaths may be a problem, but chronic cases usually require medical intervention. Persistently increased levels of CO2 in the bloodstream can be harmful over time by increasing the pH of your blood and affecting the health of the lungs, respiratory system, and other major systems of the body. Hypercapnia occurs when the levels of oxygen and CO2 in the bloodstream become unbalanced. This imbalance changes the pH balance of your blood, making it too acidic.

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  1. Symptoms Of Hypercapnia
  2. Causes Of Hypercapnia
  3. Side Effects Of Hypercapnia
  4. Diagnosis Of Hypercapnia
  5. Treatment Of Hypercapnia In COPD
  6. Summary

Symptoms of hypercapnia can range from mild to severe over time and depend on the underlying problem. Mild symptoms of hypercapnia usually include:

If these symptoms persist for a few days, see your doctor.

Severe Symptoms
Severe symptoms of hypercapnia can be life threatening and require immediate medical attention. If you notice the following symptoms, see your doctor right away, especially if you have COPD. Symptoms include

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Hypercapnia can have many causes, including:

COPD – In this it can be difficult to breathe normally. Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are two common examples of COPD. COPD is often caused by smoking or breathing harmful air in polluted environments. Over time, the ability to carry oxygen to the lungs decreases due to COPD. COPD can also destroy the walls between the alveoli. This restricts the flow of air in and out of the lungs, making it difficult to take in oxygen and expel CO2.

Nerve and Muscle Problems – Nerve and muscle conditions that can cause hypercapnia include:

Genetic Causes – In rare cases, hypercapnia may be caused by a genetic condition in which the body does not produce enough of a protein called alpha-1-antitrypsin. This protein comes from the liver and is used by the body to keep the lungs healthy.

Other Causes Of Hypercapnia
Other causes of hypercapnia include:

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People who live in the following conditions or do the following jobs are at greater risk of hypercapnia, such as

  • Smoking Cigarettes, Cigars, Or Pipes
  • Age, Because Symptoms Usually Start Appearing Only After The Age Of 40.
  • Asthma Especially If You Smoke
  • Breathing Fumes Or Chemicals In Workplace Environments, Such As Factories, Warehouses, Or Electrical Or Chemical Plants
  • Delaying Treatment Of Copd Or Any Other Condition That Causes Hypercapnia Can Also Increase Your Risk. Visit Your Doctor At Least Once Per Year For A Complete Physical Exam To Rule Out Risks.

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If your doctor thinks you have hypercapnia, they will perform blood and breathing tests to diagnose the problem and the underlying cause. Arterial blood gas testing is commonly used to test for hypercapnia. This test can assess the levels of oxygen and CO2 in your blood, determine the pH of the blood, and make sure your oxygen pressure is healthy. Doctors may also test breathing using spirometry. In this test, you breathe forcefully into a tube. An attached spirometer measures how much air is in your lungs and how forcefully you can blow that air out. An X-ray or CT scan of the lungs may also be done to see if you have emphysema or other related lung conditions.

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If an underlying condition is causing your hypercapnia, your doctor will create a plan of treatment for the symptoms of your condition. If you have COPD-related hypercapnia, the doctor will probably advise you to stop smoking or limit your exposure to smoke or chemicals. If you are hospitalized for severe symptoms, you may be put on a ventilator to make sure you can breathe properly. You may also be intubated, in which a tube is inserted into your airway through your mouth to help you breathe. These techniques help you continuously receive oxygen to balance your CO2 levels.

Some medicines can help you breathe better, including:

  • Bronchodilators, also called inhalers, help make your airway muscles work properly.
  • Inhaled or oral corticosteroids, which reduce airway inflammation.
  • Antibiotics for respiratory infections such as pneumonia or acute bronchitis

There are specific treatments that can help treat the symptoms and causes of hypercapnia. Like in oxygen therapy, a small device delivers oxygen directly to your lungs, but caution should be taken because oxygen therapy is not for everyone. For someone with COPD, taking oxygen from outside can make hypercapnia worse because it can cause an imbalance between the amount of oxygen entering the body compared to the blood flow rate, a dangerous condition that can cause your red blood cells to collapse. This can cause CO2 to be released into the blood which your body cannot eliminate.

In some cases surgery may be required to treat or replace damaged airways or lungs. In lung volume reduction surgery, the doctor will remove your damaged tissue. In a lung transplant, a damaged lung is removed and replaced with a new lung. Both surgeries can be serious, so talk to your doctor about these options and see if they're right for you.

Can Hypercapnia Be Prevented?
If you have a respiratory problem that causes hypercapnia, getting treatment is the best way to prevent hypercapnia. Lifestyle measures, such as quitting smoking, losing weight, or getting regular exercise, can also significantly reduce the risk of hypercapnia.

Getting treatment for COPD or other underlying conditions that can cause hypercapnia will greatly improve your long-term health and prevent future incidents. If you need long-term treatment or surgery, listen carefully to your doctor's instructions so that your treatment plan or recovery from surgery is successful. With proper care, people with hypercapnia can live healthy, active lives.

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