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Heart Failure
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Oxygen Therapy For Heart Failure
The following article is reprinted from Kaiser Permanente Web Site


Oxygen, which may be supplied by:

  • Air concentrators.
  • Liquid-oxygen devices.
  • Oxygen-gas cylinders.

How It Works

Normally when you breathe in, oxygen enters your lungs and goes into your bloodstream. With oxygen therapy, you breathe in concentrated oxygen to increase the amount of oxygen that enters your blood and, ultimately, your body's cells.

Oxygen therapy may be given using several delivery systems, including air concentrators, oxygen-gas cylinders, and liquid-oxygen devices. Oxygen therapy is usually portable, and you can use it while doing daily tasks.

  • Concentrators, which take oxygen from the air, are the least expensive but are electrically powered and are fairly heavy [about 30lb(13.61kg)]. This makes them difficult to carry.
  • Cylinders of compressed or pressurized oxygen gas come in several sizes. The largest are too heavy to move around. Smaller cylinders can be carried and provide about 5 hours of oxygen.
  • Liquid oxygen is more expensive than compressed oxygen gas, but the containers weigh less, contain more oxygen, and are more convenient to use. Liquid oxygen, however, is more flammable and potentially more hazardous.

Oxygen can be given using a flexible plastic tube inserted in the nostrils (nasal cannula), a face mask, or a tube inserted into the windpipe (transtracheal cannula).

  • The nasal cannula gives you the greatest freedom for moving around and talking. However, this method may be more expensive than other devices because of oxygen lost to the air. The amount of oxygen actually inhaled may be less than with other methods of delivery.
  • A face mask is less portable and gets in the way of talking and eating.
  • The transtracheal cannula requires making a small opening in the neck that leads to the windpipe (tracheostomy). The transtracheal cannula is not as easily seen, wastes less oxygen, and does not dry out the nose (which can occur with a nasal cannula). A transtracheal cannula requires more care and has a greater risk for infection.

Selecting the type of oxygen supply should be based on your ability to move around. People who seldom leave the house may find that an oxygen concentrator gives the best combination of convenience and cost.

In all oxygen delivery systems, the risk of fire or explosion is high if you use oxygen around lit cigarettes or an open flame. If you or those who care for you smoke, oxygen therapy may not be a good option.

Why It Is Used

Your doctor will determine how much oxygen you need with a blood test called arterial blood gas and another test called oximetry. These tests measure the levels of oxygen in the blood.

Long-term oxygen therapy is given to people with heart failure who have low levels of oxygen in their blood. It is given to increase the amount of oxygen in the blood to provide for the body's needs.

Oxygen therapy can decrease shortness of breath and allow you to do more.

How Well It Works

Oxygen therapy helps reduce the heart's workload. In heart failure, the heart does not pump as effectively as it should and does not meet the body's needs for oxygen. Oxygen therapy helps compensate by increasing the amount of oxygen delivered to the body's tissues.

Research shows that home oxygen therapy can help decrease shortness of breath and increases your capacity to exercise.1

Side Effects

Generally, there are no adverse effects from oxygen therapy.

Your doctor will set the flow rate per minute to give you the right amount of oxygen. Don't change the flow rate unless your doctor tells you. Higher flow rates usually do not help and can increase the risk of harmful carbon dioxide buildup in the blood, especially in those people who also have lung disease.

What To Think About

There is a high risk of fire or explosion if you use oxygen around lit cigarettes or an open flame. Put up no-smoking signs in your home. If you or others who care for you smoke, oxygen therapy may not be a good option because of this danger. Stay at least 5ft(1.5m) away from gas stoves, candles, lighted fireplaces, or anything that produces sparks.

Oxygen is usually delivered by a small plastic tube called a cannula. The cannula is placed under the nostrils and wrapped around your ears. To prevent your nose and cheeks and the skin behind your ears from becoming irritated, tuck some gauze under the tubing and use a water-based lubricant on chafed areas.

Oxygen can also be delivered through a face mask or oxygen tent or by a number of other devices.



  1. Hughes JMB (2000). Pulmonary complications of heart disease. In JF Murray et al., eds., Textbook of Respiratory Medicine, 3rd ed., vol. 2, pp. 22472265. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders.


Author Nancy Reid
Editor Geri Metzger
Associate Editor Lila Havens
Associate Editor Tracy Landauer
Primary Medical Reviewer Caroline S. Rhoads, MD
- Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Robert A. Kloner, MD, PhD
- Cardiology
Last Updated September 22, 2005


Medical review Author Last updated
Caroline S. Rhoads, MD - Internal Medicine

Nancy Reid
September 22, 2005

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