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Mechanical Ventilation

What is mechanical ventilation?

Mechanical ventilation is the use of a machine to help you breathe when you are unable to breathe on your own.

When is it used?

Mechanical ventilation may be used in an emergency to help someone breathe and stay alive. Some situations where mechanical ventilation is used are:

  • acute lung injury--for example, from an injury
  • severe low blood pressure (hypotension), which can be caused by shock, sepsis (infection in the blood), or congestive heart failure
  • severe asthma
  • acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)
  • conditions where the diaphragm is unable to function, such as:
    • myasthenia gravis
    • Guillain-Barré syndrome
    • spinal cord injury.

How do I prepare for mechanical ventilation?

In most cases it is used in an emergency situation. You cannot prepare for it.

Mechanical ventilation can be frightening. If you need mechanical ventilation, try to stay relaxed. You will be given medicine to help you relax and to tolerate the tube in your windpipe.

What happens during mechanical ventilation?

During mechanical ventilation:

  • You will be given medicine to relax you and reduce anxiety.
  • You will have a tube placed down your throat (intubation) to protect your airway.
  • The tube will be hooked up to the mechanical ventilator.
  • You will be taken to an intensive care or critical care unit in the hospital.
  • A doctor who is a critical care specialist will monitor your condition and control the settings on the ventilator.
  • The critical care nurses and respiratory therapists will help your doctor manage your breathing. They will periodically suction the lung secretions out of the tube because you will probably not be able to cough.

What happens after the procedure?

After you are started on mechanical ventilation:

  • You may stay on mechanical ventilation for several days, depending on how well you are breathing.
  • Your healthcare providers may change the settings for the mechanical ventilation based on how you are doing.
  • When you are strong enough and ready to go off the ventilator, your healthcare provider will slowly wean you off. Weaning you off means that the ventilator breathing rate will be turned down. This will give you a chance to take some breaths on your own. When you are able to breathe at a normal rate (usually 12 to 20 times a minute) and the tests show that you are able to get enough oxygen on your own, the ventilator can be stopped.
  • Once you are completely weaned off mechanical ventilation, the tube will be removed from your throat so you can breathe fully on your own.
  • After the tube is removed, your throat may feel sore and you may have some hoarseness for several days or a week.

What are the benefits of mechanical ventilation?

The main benefit of mechanical ventilation is that it can keep you alive. Without mechanical ventilation, many seriously injured or ill people would not survive.

What are the risks associated with the procedure?

Risks associated with mechanical ventilation include:

  • pneumothorax, also called collapsed lung, which means air has entered the space between the rib cage and one of your lungs, causing the lung to collapse
  • injury to your airways
  • injury to the tiny air sacs in your lungs called alveoli
  • pneumonia.

When should I call my healthcare provider?

While you are having mechanical ventilation, your critical care doctor will be keeping close watch over your condition.

After you are released from the hospital, you should call your healthcare provider if you:

  • develop a fever
  • start coughing up blood
  • keep having problems with your voice, such as hoarseness or throat pain
  • develop any trouble breathing.
Lee A. Mancini, MD, CSCS, CSN
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2009-02-11
Last reviewed: 2009-02-02
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2011 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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