Many neurological diseases may cause acute respiratory failure (ARF) due to involvement of bulbar respiratory center, spinal cord, motoneurons, peripheral nerves, neuromuscular junction, or skeletal muscles. In this context, respiratory emergencies are often a challenge at home, in a neurology ward, or even in an intensive care unit, influencing morbidity and mortality. More commonly, patients develop primarily ventilatory impairment causing hypercapnia. Moreover, inadequate bulbar and expiratory muscle function may cause retained secretions, frequently complicated by pneumonia, atelectasis, and, ultimately, hypoxemic ARF. On the basis of the clinical onset, two main categories of ARF can be identified: (i) acute exacerbation of chronic respiratory failure, which is common in slowly progressive neurological diseases, such as movement disorders and most neuromuscular diseases, and (ii) sudden-onset respiratory failure which may develop in rapidly progressive neurological disorders including stroke, convulsive status epilepticus, traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, phrenic neuropathy, myasthenia gravis, and Guillain–Barré syndrome. A tailored assistance may include manual and mechanical cough assistance, noninvasive ventilation, endotracheal intubation, invasive mechanical ventilation, or tracheotomy. This review provides practical recommendations for prevention, recognition, management, and treatment of respiratory emergencies in neurological diseases, mostly in teenagers and adults, according to type and severity of baseline disease.
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