Arterial blood gas tensions were studied for six years in 85 patients (59 men, 26 women, mean age 58.8 years) with hypoxaemia associated with chronic bronchitis. All patients who died had a precipitous fall of arterial oxygen tension (PaO2) breathing air. In patients dying within two years of the first appearance of ankle oedema the mean rate of fall of PaO2 was 0.11 kPa/month. Patients who survived two years appeared to deteriorate more slowly (0.017 kPa/month) until some months before death, when they too deteriorated rapidly. Hypoxaemic patients with obstructive airways disease suffer a terminal rapid decline in arterial oxygen tension, which probably indicates real pathological change in the lungs and has important implications for long-term domiciliary oxygen treatment.
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