MSD Manual

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What Causes Respiratory Failure?

What Causes Respiratory Failure?

Underlying Problem


Abnormality of the chest wall

A chest wound, deformities resulting from chest surgery, injury, extreme obesity, or scoliosis

Abnormality of lung tissue

Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), a drug reaction, pneumonia, pulmonary edema (excess fluid in the lungs) due to heart failure or kidney failure, pulmonary fibrosis, radiation, sarcoidosis, or widespread tumors

Airflow obstruction

Muscle weakness

Poor breathing (decrease in the drive to breathe)

Drug or alcohol intoxication, hypothyroidism, obesity, or sleep apnea