Last updated: February 18, 2021

What Does Hypoventilation Mean?

Hypoventilation occurs when the body's lungs cannot absorb enough oxygen and carbon dioxide then builds up in the blood stream. Hypoventilation is caused when the amount of air entering, or processed by, the pulmonary alveoli in the lungs is reduced. The condition is usually diagnosed by measuring the patient's arterial blood gases (ABG) to detect high levels of carbon dioxide. Sleep studies may also be used to assess the condition.

Symptoms of hypoventilation include cyanosis (bluing of the skin) and a general decrease in respiratory function. Individuals suffering from hypoventilation may also experience fatigue, dyspnea (labored breathing), hypoxia (low blood oxygen) , stomach aches, heart problems, and headaches.

Because individuals with sleep apnea may not automatically breath and correct any imbalance of blood gases, hypoventilation is particularly dangerous for sufferers of sleep apnea. The condition may become life-threatening if steps are not taken to ensure that appropriate oxygen levels are maintained.


WorkplaceTesting Explains Hypoventilation

The reduced alveolar ventilation that is responsible for hypoventilation may be caused a number of different conditions. Some instances are caused by physical abnormalities of the alveoli. Other causes of hypoventilation include illness or hypopnea, a decreased rate of respiration. Specific conditions associated with hypoventilation include emphysema, bronchitis, and cystic fibrosis. Physical deformities of the chest wall may also limit alveolar function. Smoking and obesity may also contribute to the development of hypoventilation. Exposure to chemical or pollutants that damage the lungs may trigger this condition as well.

Treatment for hypoventilation is governed by the underlying cause of the condition. Patients may be asked to make health and lifestyle changes or take prescribed medications. In some instances, assistive ventilation or oxygen therapy may be required.


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