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A mechanical ventilation helps a patient breathe (ventilate) when he or she cannot breathe on his or her own for any reason.



A mechanical ventilator is used to decrease the work of breathing until patients improve enough to no longer need it. The machine makes sure that the body receives adequate oxygen and that carbon dioxide is removed. This is necessary when certain illnesses prevent normal breathing.




The main benefits of mechanical ventilation are the following:

  • The patient does not have to work as hard to breathe – their respiratory muscles rest.

  • The patient's as allowed time to recover in hopes that breathing becomes normal again.

  • Helps the patient get adequate oxygen and clears carbon dioxide.

  • Preserves a stable airway and preventing injury from aspiration.

It is important to note that mechanical ventilation does not heal the patient. Rather, it allows the patient a chance to be stable while the medications and treatments help them to recover.




The main risk of mechanical ventilation is an infection, as the artificial airway (breathing tube) may allow germs to enter the lung. This risk of infection increases the longer mechanical ventilation is needed and is highest around two weeks. Another risk is lung damage caused by either over inflation or repetitive opening and collapsing of the small air sacs (alveoli) of the lungs. Sometimes, patients are unable to be weaned off of a ventilator and may require prolonged support. When this occurs, the tube is removed from the mouth and changed to a smaller airway in the neck. This is called a tracheostomy. Using a ventilator may prolong the dying process if the patient is considered unlikely to recover.




  • Suctioning: This is a procedure in which a catheter (a thin, hollow tube) is inserted into the breathing tube to help remove secretions (mucus). This procedure may make the patient cough or gag, and it may be uncomfortable to watch. Also, secretions may develop a blood tinge from the act of suctioning. It is important to understand that this is a vital procedure for keeping the airways clear of secretions.

  • Aerosolized (spray) medications: A patient may need medications that are delivered through the breathing tube. These medications may be targeted to the airway or the lung and may be more effective when delivered this way.

  • Bronchoscopy: In this procedure, the doctor inserts a small light with a camera into the airway of the patient through the breathing tube. This is a very effective tool for checking the airways in the lungs. Sometimes the physician will take samples of mucus or tissue in order to guide the patient's therapy.




The main purpose of a mechanical ventilator is to allow the patient time to heal. Usually, as soon as a patient can breathe effectively on their own, they are taken off the mechanical ventilator.

The caregivers will perform a series of tests to check the patient's ability to breathe on their own. When the cause for the breathing problem is improved and it is felt that the patient can breathe effectively on their own, they are taken off of the mechanical ventilator.

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