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:
ξ Make it easier for the patient to breathe.
ξ Get air into the body.
ξ 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:
ξ 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.
ξ 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.
ξ Lung damage –The extra pressure from the machine can damage diseased lungs or lungs
that are not working well.
ξ 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 drugs have been stopped.
Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your care. If so, please use it and call if you
have any questions. If this information was not given to you as part of your care, please check with your doctor. This
is not medical advice. This is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Because each
person’s health needs are different, you should talk with your doctor or others on your health care team when using
this information. If you have an emergency, please call 911. Copyright © 6/2016 University of Wisconsin Hospitals
and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing HF#6337