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Mechanical Ventilation

by Brian K. Gehlbach, MD, Jesse B. Hall, MD

Mechanical ventilation is use of a machine to aid the movement of air into and out of the lungs.

Some people with respiratory failure (see Respiratory Failure) need a mechanical ventilator (a machine that helps air get in and out of the lungs) to aid breathing. Mechanical ventilation can be lifesaving.

Mechanical ventilation can be delivered many ways. Usually a plastic tube is inserted through the nose or mouth into the windpipe (trachea). If people need mechanical ventilation for more than a few days, doctors may insert the tube directly into the trachea through a small incision in the front of the neck (tracheostomy). A tracheostomy is safer and more comfortable for long-term ventilation. The tube is then attached to the ventilator. Exhalation occurs passively because of the elastic recoil of the lungs. Many types of ventilators and modes of operation may be used, depending on the underlying disorder. Depending on the person’s needs, the ventilator delivers pure oxygen or a mixture of oxygen and air.

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