Intubation and mechanical ventilation is the use of a tube and a machine to help get air into and out of your lungs. This is often done in emergencies, but it can also be done when you are having surgery.
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Your lungs help exchange gases in your body. Oxygen is moved from the air in your lungs into your blood, and carbon dioxide in your blood moves into the air in your lungs. This movement of gases is needed to live. If you cannot move air into and out of your lungs, then this gas exchange cannot happen. Intubation and mechanical ventilation is done to help you breathe when you cannot move enough air in and out on your own.
Complications are rare, but no procedure is completely free of risk. If you are planning to have intubation and mechanical ventilation, your doctor will review a list of possible complications, which may include:
Some factors that may increase the risk of complications include:
Be sure to discuss these risks with your doctor before the procedure.
If your intubation and mechanical ventilation is being performed along with surgery and is planned:
In most cases, you will either be heavily sedated or under general anesthesia and asleep. Local anesthesia may be used to numb your throat. You may also receive a muscle relaxant. This is to prevent gagging when the tube is inserted.
First, you will wear an oxygen mask for 2-3 minutes. This will ensure that you have enough oxygen in your system during the procedure.
Your head will be tilted back slightly. A tool called a laryngoscope will be used. The scope has a handle, a light, and a smooth dull blade. This tool lifts the tongue off the back of the throat so your vocal cords can be seen. One end of the breathing tube will be inserted through the vocal cords and into your lower windpipe.
When the tube is in position, the scope will be removed and the tube will be left in place. Next, the tube will be attached to a ventilator machine. The tube will then be taped to the corner of your mouth. This machine will move air in and out of your lungs. It can adjust how quickly and how deeply you breathe. In some cases, the tube will be inserted through the nose instead of the mouth.
Right after the procedure, your doctor will:
Less than five minutes
The anesthesia will prevent pain during the procedure. The tube will cause discomfort and may make you cough.
This procedure is done in a hospital setting. The usual length of stay depends on why you are having the procedure.
While you are intubated, you will receive extra help from nurses and other hospital staff.
You will not be able to eat, drink, or talk until the tube is removed. Before the tube can be removed, you will need to:
If you need mechanical ventilation for more than a few weeks, a tracheotomy may be done. In this case, the airway tube is inserted through a hole made in your neck instead of your mouth or nose.
After you are no longer intubated and have left the hospital, contact your doctor if any of the following occurs:
In case of an emergency, call for medical help right away.
American Lung Association
Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America
The Canadian Lung Association
Mechanical ventilation. Anaesthesia & Intensive Care website. Available at: http://www.aic.cuhk.edu.hk/web8/mech%20vent%20intro.htm . Accessed May 29, 2013.
Mechanical ventilator. American Thoracic Society website. Available at: http://www.thoraci... . Accessed May 29, 2013.
What is a ventilator? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/vent/ . Updated February 1, 2011. Accessed May 29, 2013.
6/3/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us : Mills E, Eyawo O, Lockhart I, Kelly S, Wu P, Ebbert JO. Smoking cessation reduces postoperative complications: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Med. 2011;124(2):144-154.e8.
Last reviewed February 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 3/18/2013