How Do Respiratory Stimulants Work?

Reviewed on 10/22/2021

How do respiratory stimulants work?

Respiratory stimulants are medications used to stimulate respiration post anesthesia or to treat respiratory conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), respiratory depression/failure, and neonatal apnea. Respiratory stimulants improve the respiratory drive and oxygen inflow as a result.

Respiratory stimulants drive respiration by stimulating the brain’s respiratory center in the medulla oblongata, located at the base of the brain. The medulla senses a rise in carbon dioxide and drop in oxygen levels in the blood and stimulates respiration. Respiratory stimulants work in the following ways:

  • Caffeine: Caffeine inhibits the activity of an enzyme known as phosphodiesterase (PDE), which leads to an increase in the intracellular levels of a signaling molecule known as cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP). An increase in medullary cAMP levels enhances its sensitivity to carbon dioxide.
  • Doxapram: Doxapram stimulates both central chemoreceptors located in the medulla and peripheral chemoreceptors in the carotid body, a sensory organ in the carotid artery. Chemoreceptors are specialized cells that sense oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in arterial blood and stimulate respiration.

How are respiratory stimulants used?

Respiratory stimulants may be administered as:

Respiratory stimulants are used in the treatment of the following conditions:




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What are side effects of respiratory stimulants?

Side effects of respiratory stimulants may include the following:

Information contained herein is not intended to cover all possible side effects, precautions, warnings, drug interactions, allergic reactions, or adverse effects. Check with your doctor or pharmacist to make sure these drugs do not cause any harm when you take them along with other medicines. Never stop taking your medication and never change your dose or frequency without consulting your doctor.

What are names of respiratory stimulant drugs?

Generic and brand names of respiratory stimulant drugs include:


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