Respiratory failure is defined as a failure in gas exchange due to an impaired respiratory system--either pump or lung failure, or both. The hallmark of respiratory failure is impairment in arterial blood gases. This review describes the mechanisms leading to respiratory failure, the indices that can be used to better describe gas exchange abnormalities and the physiologic and clinical consequences of these abnormalities. The possible causes of respiratory failure are then briefly mentioned and a quick reference to the clinical evaluation of such patients is made. Finally treatment options are briefly outlined for both acute and chronic respiratory failure.
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