Intubation and Mechanical Ventilation in the ICU
This is the process used to place a breathing tube or ET (endotracheal) tube through a patient’s mouth into their windpipe. Breathing tubes are used during surgery and when a patient needs help with breathing.
A ventilator is a machine used to help patients breathe with less effort until they are able to breathe on their own. This machine is also called a vent or breathing machine. The patient is connected to the ventilator through an ET tube. Our aim is to help patients heal quickly and get them off the ventilator as soon as we can.
The ventilator is used to:
- Make it easier for the patient to breathe.
- Get air into the body.
- Get carbon dioxide out of the body.
Patients with severe breathing problems (respiratory failure) may have low levels of oxygen and high levels of carbon dioxide even though they are getting extra oxygen. Others have normal levels, but find it very hard to breathe. Severe injury can also get in the way of good breathing. In all of these cases, a ventilator is needed since the patient’s lungs are no longer doing these jobs well. Keep in mind, a ventilator does not fix disease. It helps to keep patients alive while the disease is being treated. In many cases, if not used, the patient could die.
As with any procedure, there are risks. Some of the risks include:
- Infection – Having a tube in the windpipe can make it easy for bacteria to get into the lungs. This could lead to pneumonia. The patient’s risk is about 1% for each day spent on the vent. This problem is often treated with antibiotics.
- Collapsed lung (pneumothorax) – The ventilator pushes air into the lungs. There is the risk that the lung could be over-expanded. Tiny sacs in the lung can then leak air into the chest causing the lung to collapse. If this occurs, the doctors will insert a chest tube into the chest wall to drain the leaked air. This allows the lung to re-inflate.
- Lung damage –The extra pressure from the machine can damage diseased lungs or lungs that are not working well.
- Medication side effects – Sedatives are often given to patients on ventilators to keep them drowsy. If these drugs start to build up in the body, the patient could remain in a deep sleep for hours to days, even after the d
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Last Updated: 09/05/2012
Copyright © 09/05/2012 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#6337
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