Respiratory arrest is an extremely dangerous condition, where the person involuntarily ceases to breathe completely. Read on to know more about this possibly fatal condition…
Respiration is one of the most important functions in the human body. It is a process of exchange of gases, where oxygen is taken in and carbon dioxide is given out. The main organs that carry out the process are the lungs. There are many diseases that affect proper respiration. One such disorder is respiratory arrest, where normal breathing is obstructed. Also known as apnea, this condition is the cessation or absence of breathing. It is recognized as a medical emergency, and is usually related to cardiac arrest.
It is characterized by the patient’s inability to breathe properly without a respirator. In certain cases, it can be difficult to diagnose. A person suffering from this disorder experiences difficulty in breathing, and the normal respiratory rate goes down. Patients show extreme agitation, and struggle to breathe. Unfortunately, this problem is difficult to diagnose in small children or people who have lost consciousness.
Respiratory arrest is of two types, and is categorized according to its root cause. Primary respiratory arrest occurs when the airways are obstructed and a severe weakness is noticed in respiratory muscles. In secondary respiratory arrest, the circulation of oxygen in the body is insufficient, though the respiratory system may function properly.
- Abnormal breathing and noisy sounds like wheezing, stridor, rhonchi, etc.
- Difficulty in breathing or obstructive breathing
- Loss of consciousness
- Cyanosis, or blue coloration of the skin and mucous membrane
- Discoloration of the body due to lack of oxygen
- No rise and fall of the chest
- Inability to feel the air coming from the nose and mouth
- Overdose of opiates, such as heroin. Other drugs that can induce breathing difficulty are narcotics, anesthetics, and barbiturates.
- Over-consumption of alcohol or tobacco can block neurotransmitters in the brain and slow down breathing.
- An injury or infection to the central nervous system, such as a spinal injury, hemorrhage in the brain stem, or intracranial hypertension, where the pressure of the cerebrospinal fluid is more than the skull can handle.
- Respiratory arrest in children can be caused due to premature birth, seizures, or heartburn (gastroesophageal reflux).
- Some other causative factors as seen in adults are stroke, irregular heartbeats, cyanide or carbon monoxide poisoning, and taking muscle relaxants or neuromuscular blocking drugs.
If not treated on time, chances are that the patient may suffer from cardiac arrest or irreversible brain damage. In order to treat this disorder, the following methods are used:
- The basic treatment is to remove any physical obstruction in the air passage with the help of fingers or forceps (under professional guidance). If children or infants are having difficulty in breathing, you can hold them with their head down, and deliver firm blows on the back till the obstruction is cleared.
- Artificial ventilation in the form of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), also known as mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, can be administered by those trained to do so.
- Another method of treatment is intubation, where a tube is connected to the trachea (or wind pipe) to keep the air passage open and ensure that the lungs are supplied with air.
- If these methods do not provide relief, the final treatment is to go for a tracheotomy, where a small incision is made into the trachea and a tube is inserted, which is connected to a ventilator.
Respiratory Arrest vs Respiratory Failure
A dysfunction in the respiratory system causes respiratory failure, whereas respiratory arrest occurs when the air passage is blocked due to some obstruction. One of the primary risk factors in the former is advanced age, though it can occur in people of all age groups. At times, if respiratory arrest becomes severe it may lead to respiratory failure. It is essential to identify the symptoms of respiratory failure in the initial stages to avoid unwanted and life-threatening complications.
It is necessary to ascertain the underlying cause of respiratory arrest. Once the cause is diagnosed, the patient can be stabilized and the necessary treatment can be administered to reverse the condition completely.