Breathing Machines (Mechanical Ventilation)

What is mechanical ventilation?

Mechanical ventilation is the use of a machine to help you breathe until you can breathe on your own. It gets oxygen into your lungs and removes carbon dioxide from your body.

When is it used?

Mechanical ventilation may be used when you are not able to breathe on your own, or to help you breathe more easily. In an emergency it can help you stay alive. For example, a breathing machine may be used if you have:

  • A serious lung injury or disease
  • Very low blood pressure, which can be caused by shock, infection, or heart failure
  • Severe asthma
  • Any other injury or condition that does not allow you to breathe well on your own
  • Surgery with general anesthesia

How do I prepare for this procedure?

In most cases a breathing machine is used in an emergency situation. Your healthcare provider will talk about your choices for treatment and explain the procedure and any risks to you or your family. It’s important to understand what your healthcare provider is going to do and how long it may take you to recover. You, or the person you selected to make decisions about your care, have the right to make decisions about your healthcare and to give permission for any tests or procedures.

What happens during mechanical ventilation?

You will be given medicine to relax you and you may be asleep. A tube will be put through your mouth into your windpipe. The tube will be hooked up to the breathing machine. The tube keeps your airway open and is used to deliver air and oxygen to your lungs and to remove carbon dioxide.

You may stay on the machine for several days, depending on how well you are breathing. You may have several blood tests while you are on the machine to see how your lungs are working. When you are healthy and strong enough to get enough oxygen on your own, the breathing machine may be slowly turned off while the tube is kept in place. The breathing machine may need to be adjusted several times over several hours while you are getting used to breathing on your own. The tube will be removed once you are comfortably breathing on your own.

What happens after the procedure?

After the tube is removed, your throat may feel sore and you may have some hoarseness for several days.

What are the risks of this procedure?

Every procedure or treatment has risks. Some possible risks of this procedure include:

  • Collapsed lung, which means air has entered the space between the rib cage and one of your lungs, putting pressure on the lung and causing it to collapse
  • Injury to your airway or the tiny air sacs in your lungs
  • Pneumonia, a lung infection

Ask your healthcare provider how these risks apply to you. Be sure to discuss any other questions or concerns that you may have.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-02-05
Last reviewed: 2014-02-05
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.
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