What is Hypercapnia?

Hypercapnia refers to increased levels of carbon dioxide in your blood.
Normally, during breathing, you inhale and utilize oxygen to perform various activities in your body and exhale carbon dioxide as unwanted product.

In case carbon dioxide accumulates in your blood, it leads to a condition known as hypercapnia. This buildup of carbon dioxide in the blood disrupts the pH balance of your body which is a threat to your life if not treated.



There are several factors that can affect your lungs from exhaling carbon dioxide from the body leading to its increase in the blood. They include:


This to conditions that affect you from breathing properly. Examples of COPD conditions include:

  • Emphysema
  • Chronic bronchitis

There are many factors that may damage your lungs leading to COPD. One of these factors is cigarette smoking or breathing in toxic chemicals. When cigarette smoke and toxic chemicals builds up in your lungs over time, they destroy the alveoli walls and its fibre in your lungs which eventually loses its elasticity as you inhale oxygen. This also affects your lungs from taking in oxygen as it should.

COPD also may cause inflammation in your trachea or windpipe and the bronchioles that leads to alveoli. These parts also secrete excess mucus which makes it difficult for you to breathe by obstructing your airways. The inflammation and obstruction of your airways prevents air from reaching and leaving your lungs. As a result carbon dioxide accumulates in your blood because your body can’t remove it.

Hypercapnia does not affect all people with COPD. However as COPD advances in your body, you are more likely to have breathing problems which affects the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your body.

Sleep apnea

This is a condition characterized by pauses in breathing or shallow breaths while a sleep.

Pauses in breathing can last for several seconds to minutes. You may have pauses for at least 30 times in one hour. After this pauses, your normal breathing resumes.

Sleep apnea interferes with your sleep by preventing you from breathing properly. This can also limit the amount of oxygen in your blood and increases the level of carbon dioxide in your body.


When you are obese or overweight, you exert a lot of pressure on your lungs. This may prevent you from inhaling enough oxygen and elevate carbon dioxide levels in your blood.


There are some activities that may limit the amount of oxygen you breathe in and raise the carbon dioxide levels in your body. One of these activities include diving, people who perform diving using scuba have limited access to fresh air and are more likely to develop hypercapnia.


 People with fever may also get hypercapnia. This is because fever makes your body to produce more carbon dioxide in your body.

Problem with your nerves and muscles

Nerves and muscles are vital in supporting breathing process. In case these nerves and muscles become weak, you will not be able to breathe properly. There are some conditions that may weaken your nerves and muscles such as:

Guillain-Barré syndrome

This is a condition in which your immune system attacks your nerves. It causes your nerves and muscles to be weak. Guillain-Barré syndrome may increase the level of carbon dioxide in your blood because your muscles are weak to assist you exhale air out of the body.

Muscular dystrophies

Muscular dystrophies are a collection of congenital diseases that eventually injure and weaken your muscles. Dystrophin, which is a protein, is responsible for ensuring your muscles are functioning normally. In case, your body lacks this protein, you will have difficulties in breathing properly.

Examples of muscular dystrophies are: congenital muscular dystrophy, becker muscular dystrophy, and duchenne muscular dystrophy.

Risk Factors

There are some risk factors that may promote hypercapnia. They include:

  • Age: most of the conditions that are responsible for hypercapnia exhibit symptoms after the age of 40 years.
  • Asthma
  • Smoking cigarette
  • Inhaling toxic chemicals from the environment.


Hypercapnia develops gradually over time and most people are unaware if they have it. At the onset of hypercapnia, you will have symptoms such difficulty in breathing, red and hot skin, headache. You may also feel dizzy and unable to concentrate. Other symptoms include feeling tired and having short breath.

In severe scenarios when carbon dioxide is in excess, people may experience panic, depression, heartbeat that is irregular, convulsions, and hyperventilation. These symptoms may cause death when they occur.


Hypercapnia can be diagnosed through the following tests:

An arterial blood gas test

This is a test done to determine the level of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood. Your doctor can take a sample of blood and find out how your lungs are transporting oxygen around your body and removing carbon dioxide.

Breathing test

our doctor can also use a spirometry to measure your breathing. In this breathing test, you will forcefully breathe into a tube and the spirometry measures the amount of air in your lungs and how vigorously you can puff it.

Imaging tests

Your doctor can use computed tomography scan (CT) or X-rays to find out if you have any lung condition.


Treatment depends on the cause of hypercapnia. The following are some of the treatment your doctor may recommend


Your doctor can use a ventilator or put a tube via your mouth into your air passage to help you breathe properly. This ensures that supply of oxygen in your body is constant and carbon dioxide level is balanced


Your doctor can prescribe some medications to help you breathe properly such as:

  • Bronchodilators – they assist your air passage muscles to function well.
  • Oral corticosteroids – they minimize inflammation in the air passage.
  • Antibiotics – these are used to treat infections in your respiratory system like acute bronchitis.


Your doctor can transplant your damaged lungs with another one from a compatible donor. Also, your doctor can remove the damaged tissue to allow you inhale a lot of oxygen in your body.

Tips to Prevent

  • Avoid smoking
  • Do exercise regularly
  • Eat a balanced diet
  • Get treated early for any respiratory condition causing hypercapnia.

Reference List

  1. Hypercapnia. Available at http://www.healthline.com/health/hypercapnia#overview1
  2. http://www.healthline.com/health/blood-gases#overview1
  3. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/copd/symptoms-causes/dxc-20204886
  4. https://www.symptoma.com/en/info/hypercapnia
  5. http://study.com/academy/lesson/hypercapnia-definition-symptoms-treatment.html
  6. Hypercapnia – https://www.openanesthesia.org/hypercapnia-causes/
  7. http://www.healthline.com/health/muscular-dystrophy#overview1
  8. Guillain-Barre syndrome – http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/guillain-barre-syndrome/basics/definition/con-20025832

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