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Chest. 2000 Jan;117(1):169-77.

Hypercapnic respiratory failure in COPD patients: response to therapy.

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Pulmonary and Critical Care Section, West Los Angeles VAMC and UCLA School of Medicine, Los Angeles, CA 90073, USA.



The clinical course of patients with acute exacerbations of underlying COPD presenting with hypercapnic respiratory failure was reviewed.


This was a retrospective review of 138 episodes of hypercapnic respiratory failure (PaCO(2) > or = 50 mm Hg and pH < or = 7.35). Patients were admitted to the West Los Angeles VAMC Medical Intensive Care Unit between 1990 and 1994.


Of the 138 hypercapnic episodes, 74 (54%) required intubation. Comparison was made with the 64 cases in which patients responded to medical therapy. Patients requiring intubation had a greater severity of illness, with a higher APACHE II (Acute Physiology and Chronic Health Evaluation II) score (18 +/- 5 vs 16 +/- 4; p < 0.01), higher WBC, higher serum BUN, and greater acidosis (pH, 7.26 +/- 0.07 vs 7.28 +/- 0.06; p = 0.08). Those with the most severe acidosis (pH < 7.20) had the highest intubation rate (70%) and shortest time to intubation (2 +/- 2 h), and they required the longest period of time to respond to medical therapy (69 +/- 60 h). With an initial pH of < 7.25, there was a consistently higher intubation rate. Conversely, those with an initial pH of 7.31 to 7. 35 were less likely to be intubated (45%), had a longer time to intubation (13 +/- 18 h), and had a more rapid response to medical therapy (30 +/- 18 h). Of those patients requiring intubation, most (78%) were intubated within 8 h of presentation, and the vast majority (93%) by 24 h. Of those patients responding to medical therapy, half (52%) recovered within 24 h and the vast majority (92%) recovered within 72 h.


This study provides a better characterization of the response to therapy of COPD patients with hypercapnic respiratory failure. This should be useful in limiting or omitting medical therapy in high-risk patients, thereby avoiding delays in intubation as well as providing a framework for continued therapy in those more likely to improve.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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