Respiratory Failure Nursing Care Plan

Elevate your patient care skills and learn to create effective care for respiratory failure with Carepatron's Respiratory Failure Nursing Care Plan template.

By Wynona Jugueta on Jul 15, 2024.


Fact Checked by Nate Lacson.

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What is respiratory failure?

Respiratory failure is a condition where the respiratory system fails to adequately oxygenate the blood or, in other words, carbon dioxide elimination occurs. This can be due to various underlying factors such as acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), chronic lung diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or respiratory distress syndrome.

In respiratory failure, the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the lungs is compromised, leading to low oxygen levels in the blood and high carbon dioxide levels.

Nurses play a crucial role in the management of respiratory failure by monitoring oxygen saturation levels, assessing respiratory status, and initiating appropriate interventions. Patients may require supplemental oxygen therapy, mechanical ventilation, or arterial blood gas analysis to manage their condition effectively.

Respiratory failure can lead to respiratory acidosis if not treated promptly, which further complicates the patient's condition. Therefore, timely recognition and intervention are essential in providing optimal care for patients with impaired gas exchange.

By closely monitoring patients and implementing appropriate nursing diagnoses, nurses can help improve outcomes and prevent complications associated with respiratory failure, including oxygen toxicity.

Symptoms of respiratory failure

Recognizing the symptoms of respiratory failure is crucial for early intervention and management. Here are some common signs to watch out for:

  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Rapid breathing (tachypnea)
  • Shallow breathing
  • Cyanosis (bluish discoloration of the skin, lips, or nail beds)
  • Confusion or altered mental status
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Rapid heart rate (tachycardia)
  • Anxiety or restlessness
  • Wheezing or crackles heard during breathing
  • Increased use of accessory muscles for breathing

These symptoms may vary in severity depending on the underlying cause and the patient's overall health status. Prompt assessment and intervention are essential to prevent further deterioration and improve patient outcomes.

Causes of respiratory failure

Respiratory failure can arise from various underlying conditions and factors. Understanding the potential causes is essential for effective management and treatment. Here are some common causes:

  • ARDS
  • COPD
  • Pneumonia
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Asthma exacerbation
  • Respiratory muscle weakness (e.g., due to neuromuscular disorders)
  • Chest trauma or injury
  • Drug overdose or poisoning affecting respiratory function
  • Sleep apnea
  • Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection (COVID-19)

These causes may lead to impairment in oxygenation or ventilation, resulting in respiratory failure. Identifying the underlying cause is crucial for appropriate management and targeted interventions to improve patient outcomes.

Types of respiratory failure

Respiratory failure can manifest in different forms, each characterized by distinct features and underlying mechanisms. Understanding these types is essential for accurate diagnosis and tailored treatment approaches. Here are the main categories:

  • Acute respiratory failure: This occurs suddenly and is characterized by a rapid onset of respiratory distress, often leading to dangerously low levels of oxygen in the blood (hypoxemia) and/or high levels of carbon dioxide (hypercapnia).
  • Chronic respiratory failure: Unlike acute respiratory failure, this type develops gradually over time and is often associated with chronic lung diseases such as COPD, where persistent impairment in lung function leads to inadequate gas exchange.
  • Hypoxemic respiratory failure: This type's primary feature is low oxygen levels in the blood, resulting from conditions that impair blood oxygenation, such as pneumonia, ARDS, or pulmonary embolism.
  • Hypercapnic respiratory failure: This type is characterized by elevated levels of carbon dioxide in the blood, typically due to inadequate ventilation, as seen in conditions like severe COPD exacerbations or neuromuscular diseases affecting respiratory muscle function.

Each type of respiratory failure requires specific management strategies tailored to address the underlying cause and optimize oxygenation and ventilation to support patient respiratory function.

Respiratory Failure Nursing Care Plan Template

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Respiratory Failure Nursing Care Plan Example

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How nurses assess and diagnose respiratory failure

Nurses play a vital role in assessing and diagnosing respiratory failure, employing various techniques and procedures to ensure accurate evaluation and timely intervention.

Check the patient's medical history

One of the initial steps in assessing respiratory failure involves gathering the patient's medical history. Nurses review past medical conditions, such as chronic lung diseases like COPD or asthma, and any recent illnesses or exacerbations.

Additionally, they inquire about recent surgeries, medication use, and exposure to environmental factors that may impact respiratory function. A thorough understanding of the patient's medical background helps nurses identify potential risk factors and underlying causes of respiratory distress.

Physical examination

A comprehensive physical examination is essential for evaluating respiratory function and identifying signs of respiratory failure. Nurses assess vital signs, including respiratory, heart, and oxygen saturation. They also observe the patient's breathing pattern, noting any signs of distress such as rapid, shallow breathing or the use of accessory muscles.

Nurses must also listen to lung sounds using a stethoscope to detect abnormalities such as wheezing, crackles, or diminished breath sounds. A thorough physical assessment provides valuable information for diagnosing respiratory failure and guiding nursing interventions.

Diagnostic evaluations

In addition to the nursing assessment, diagnostic evaluations are often necessary to confirm the diagnosis of respiratory failure and determine its underlying cause. Nurses may collaborate with respiratory therapists and other healthcare providers to perform diagnostic tests such as gas analysis, which provides information about blood oxygen and carbon dioxide levels.

Chest X-rays or CT scans may also be ordered to evaluate lung function and identify structural abnormalities or pathology. These diagnostic tests help nurses obtain objective data to support their clinical assessment and develop an appropriate care plan.

Next steps after diagnosis

Once respiratory failure is diagnosed, nurses initiate appropriate interventions to optimize respiratory function and support patient comfort and safety. Depending on the severity of respiratory distress, interventions may include administering supplemental oxygen, initiating mechanical ventilation, or providing respiratory treatments such as bronchodilators or chest physiotherapy. Nurses closely monitor the patient's response to treatment, adjusting interventions as needed to achieve optimal outcomes.

Additionally, patient education is crucial in promoting self-management and preventing future exacerbations of respiratory failure. Nurses provide instruction on techniques such as deep breathing exercises, proper use of respiratory medications, and strategies for maintaining optimal oxygen saturation levels at home.

How to use our Respiratory Failure Nursing Care Plan template

Carepatron's Respiratory Failure Nursing Care Plan template is a valuable tool for medical professionals involved in caring for patients with respiratory distress. Here's a guide on how to effectively utilize this template:

Step 1: Patient assessment

Begin by conducting a comprehensive assessment of the patient's respiratory status, including respiratory rate, oxygen saturation levels, and breath sounds. Use the template to document relevant assessment findings and identify any signs or symptoms of respiratory failure.

Step 2: Nursing diagnoses

Based on the assessment data, identify nursing diagnoses related to impaired gas exchange, ineffective breathing patterns, or respiratory distress. Use the template to document these diagnoses and prioritize nursing interventions accordingly.

Step 3: Nursing interventions

Refer to the template to select appropriate nursing interventions to address the identified diagnoses and promote optimal respiratory function. These interventions may include administering supplemental oxygen, monitoring vital signs, providing respiratory treatments, and implementing strategies to promote effective breathing.

Step 4: Documentation

Document all nursing assessments, interventions, and patient responses to treatment using the template. Ensure that documentation is clear, concise, and accurate, reflecting the patient's progress and any changes in their condition over time.

Step 5: Evaluation and adjustment

Evaluate the effectiveness of nursing interventions in achieving desired outcomes and addressing the patient's respiratory needs regularly. Use the template to document evaluation findings and adjust the care plan as necessary based on the patient's response to treatment.

Common nursing interventions for respiratory failure

Nurses play a critical role in managing respiratory failure by implementing various interventions to support adequate oxygenation and ventilation. Here are some common nursing interventions:

Monitor oxygen saturation

Assess the patient's oxygen saturation levels regularly using pulse oximetry. Monitor for fluctuations in oxygen saturation, which may indicate worsening respiratory function or the need for supplemental oxygen therapy.

Mechanical ventilation

Initiate and monitor mechanical ventilation for patients with acute respiratory failure or ARDS. Adjust ventilator settings to optimize oxygenation and ventilation and prevent complications such as barotrauma or ventilator-associated pneumonia.

Deep breathing exercises

Encourage and assist patients with deep breathing exercises to improve lung expansion and prevent atelectasis. Instruct patients on proper breathing techniques, including diaphragmatic breathing and incentive spirometry, to enhance respiratory function and prevent complications.

Respiratory rate monitoring

Assess the patient's respiratory rate and pattern regularly, noting any changes or abnormalities. An increased respiratory rate may indicate respiratory distress or inadequate gas exchange, requiring prompt intervention and further evaluation.

Supplemental oxygen therapy

Administer supplemental oxygen as prescribed to maintain adequate oxygenation and prevent hypoxemia. Monitor oxygen delivery systems for proper function and ensure appropriate oxygen flow rates based on the patient's oxygen saturation levels and respiratory status.


Optimize patient positioning to facilitate optimal lung expansion and ventilation. Position patients in a semi-Fowler's position or elevate the head of the bed to improve respiratory mechanics and reduce the risk of aspiration.

Secretion management

Assist patients with effective coughing and airway clearance techniques to mobilize and remove respiratory secretions. Provide chest physiotherapy or suctioning to maintain airway patency and prevent respiratory complications.

Fluid management

Monitor fluid balance closely and ensure adequate hydration while avoiding fluid overload, which can exacerbate respiratory distress and compromise gas exchange.

Benefits of having a comprehensive care plan

A comprehensive care plan is essential for managing respiratory failure effectively and ensuring optimal patient outcomes. Here are five key benefits:

1. Optimal oxygenation and ventilation

A well-developed care plan helps healthcare professionals optimize oxygenation and ventilation strategies tailored to patients' needs. By monitoring oxygen saturation levels and adjusting interventions accordingly, such as administering supplemental oxygen or initiating mechanical ventilation, the care plan ensures that patients receive adequate respiratory support to maintain optimal oxygen levels in the blood.

2. Preventing respiratory complications

Comprehensive care plans include strategies to prevent respiratory complications such as atelectasis, pneumonia, or respiratory muscle weakness. By implementing measures such as deep breathing exercises, secretion management, and proper positioning, healthcare providers can reduce the risk of complications and promote respiratory health.

3. Individualized treatment approach

Each patient with respiratory failure may have unique underlying causes and clinical presentations. A comprehensive care plan allows for individualized treatment approaches based on the patient's specific needs and medical history. By tailoring interventions to address the root cause of respiratory failure, healthcare professionals can optimize patient outcomes and enhance the effectiveness of treatment.

4. Enhanced monitoring and assessment

Care plans facilitate regular monitoring and assessment of key respiratory parameters, including oxygen saturation, respiratory rate, and arterial blood gas levels. By closely monitoring these parameters, healthcare providers can detect early signs of respiratory deterioration and intervene promptly to prevent further complications or the need for ventilatory support.

5. Improved coordination of care

A comprehensive care plan promotes interdisciplinary collaboration and communication among healthcare team members involved in managing respiratory failure. By outlining clear roles and responsibilities for each team member, the care plan ensures that patient care is coordinated and seamless, leading to improved outcomes and patient satisfaction.

What is the nursing priority for respiratory failure?
What is the nursing priority for respiratory failure?

Commonly asked questions

What is the nursing priority for respiratory failure?

The nursing priority for respiratory failure is to ensure adequate oxygenation and ventilation to maintain vital organ function and prevent further respiratory compromise.

What is the nursing diagnosis for respiratory distress?

The nursing diagnosis for respiratory distress is often "Ineffective Breathing Pattern" related to impaired gas exchange or decreased lung function.

What are common nursing diagnoses for respiratory-related problems?

Common nursing diagnoses for respiratory-related problems include Impaired Gas Exchange, Ineffective Airway Clearance, and Risk for Aspiration related to decreased cough reflex or altered level of consciousness.

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