What is Hypercapnia?

Hypercapnia is a condition that occurs when there is an excess of carbon dioxide in the bloodstream. This is usually caused by inadequate respiration, such as hyperventilation or COPD. When your body is getting too much carbon dioxide it isn’t getting enough fresh oxygen, making it hard to breathe and get needed air. Hypercapnia comes in different levels of severity, it can even go unnoticed for some time if it progresses slowly. Educate yourself about the symptoms, treatments, and causes of hypercapnia to know how you can avoid and deal with this potentially dangerous disease.


The carbon dioxide in bloodstreams can be increased or decreased by certain medical conditions. One common cause of hypercapnia is COPD. Though not everyone with COPD will need to worry about hypercapnia, many will be afflicted. When we breathe, we inhale and exhale carbon dioxide through our lungs—this carbon dioxide passes through small air sacs. In those with COPD, these air sacs are damaged or even destroyed. As a result, there is a retention of carbon dioxide, meaning there is a low amount of oxygen in the blood.

COPD is often caused by smoking or breathing in other harmful air. Lung infected by COPD has damage alveoli (tiny air sacs) which means that they cannot stretch as you breathe in oxygen. This condition can lead to blockage and inflammation that can make breathing very difficult. As a result, your body cannot get rid of the carbon dioxide it intakes and it can build up in your bloodstream and further impact your breathing and even your brain. Many COPD patients are also afflicted with hypercapnia and should be wary of it.

Other respiratory issues can also contribute to hypercapnia. An overdose of narcotics or degenerative neurological conditions can lead to the brain struggling to respond t commands to increase breathing, resulting in excessive carbon dioxide in the blood. Hypercapnia can also be caused by obesity, scuba diving, hypothermia, or severe illness or trauma.


Symptoms of hypercapnia can be mild and even go unnoticed by some. A mild case of hypercapnia would show symptoms like fatigue, headaches, dizziness, flushed skin, shortness of breath, struggling to concentrate or think clearly, or increased blood pressure. A more severe case would show more severe symptoms such as paranoia, depression, confusion, muscles twitches, seizures, palpitations, panic, dilation, or experiencing pressure in the brain. If you are experiencing severe symptoms, see a doctor immediately as hypercapnia could lead to respiratory failure or even death.


Treatment for hypercapnia can consist of treating the cause. For example, treating COPD or other respiratory issues. Some cases may require restoring ventilation so that carbon dioxide can properly be released. These treatments could include noninvasive ventilation or intubation and mechanical ventilation.

Noninvasive ventilation enhances the breathing process by giving air and oxygen through a facial mask. Intubation and mechanical ventilation include a special tube going through the mouth into the airway providing active breathing for a patient.