How Long Can A Person Be Intubated (And Why)?

Exact Answer: As long as medically deemed necessary

Intubation is a common medical procedure that is carried out on patients who are unable to breathe spontaneously. When the respiratory system is compromised due to some complications, pre-existing conditions, or diseases, doctors prescribe intubation to help oxygenate the blood of the concerned patient.

During the procedure, a tube is threaded through the patient’s throat and windpipe to help get air into his or her lungs. The ventilator helps oxygenate the patient’s blood. Although this is often an important procedure for critically ill patients, they may have to endure the stress of this procedure for a prolonged period of time.

How Long Can A Person Be Intubated

A patient can remain intubated for quite an extended period of time. The time frame of continuing the procedure is dependent on the core requirement of performing it in the first place. Thus, the causal factor responsible for intubating a patient is important while determining the time of its removal.

Patients are often sedated and consequently intubated before the beginning of several surgical procedures. Major surgeries cannot occur when the patient is spontaneously breathing. For this purpose, they must be intubated prior to the commencement of the surgery. In such cases, most patients will remain intubated for the entire duration of the surgery as well as a few hours after the completion of the procedure.

Oftentimes, patients may be intubated for longer durations that extend up to several weeks and months when they suffer from pneumococcal diseases like pneumonia, or other lung-related congenital disorders. In most of these cases, the patient is weaned off the tube as soon as they can breathe on their own.

In the event of certain traumatic brain injuries, doctors can prescribe intubation for the concerned patient. Such patients can remain intubated for up to several years. This may happen if they are unable to regain consciousness for a prolonged period of time.  

The thumb rule for reversing an intubation procedure is to ensure that the patient is capable of regulating their breathing spontaneously without the need for any external intervention. When a physician notes that a patient is able to meet this core criterion, he or she can be weaned off the ventilator.

 In summary:

Particularities of the SituationTime Spent Under Intubation
Surgical ProceduresAs long as a particular procedure or surgery lasts
Pneumococcal DiseasesSeveral weeks and months
Traumatic Brain InjuriesUp to several years

Why Does A Person Remain Intubated For So Long?            

During a surgical procedure or any other medical interventions like certain radiological interventions, patients cannot remain conscious. Doctors specify the need for patients to remain sedated and most importantly, unconscious as most of these procedures are painful and traumatic.

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In such cases, an individual cannot breathe on his own. Loss of consciousness results in the inability of the brain to regulate our spontaneous breathing functions. Thus, such patients must be intubated to help them breathe through the course of the procedure.

The rationale for intubating a patient suffering from various pneumococcal ailments is similar. The objective of the physician is to accord a much-needed rest to the respiratory system of such an individual. Intubation helps attain this goal. It helps relieve the pressure on the lungs by leveraging external mechanisms that facilitate breathing. After a few weeks or months on the vent, such patients may recover.

Similarly, in the case of a traumatic brain injury resulting from an accident, doctors prescribe intubation as the patient is usually unconscious after such events. This translates to the possibility of not breathing spontaneously. To help keep the brain stem alive, such a patient must be intubated even if they are kept in a medically-induced coma. Sometimes such patients may wake up conscious after years of living with the help of a ventilator.

However, spending a prolonged time under intubation may be very harmful to the patient. It may keep their circulation alive but other problems like muscle weakness, mental degeneration, and cognitive disabilities may also be noted in the patient.

Conclusion

As a medical procedure, intubation is commonly used to help a patient breathe when they are unable to regulate the flow of oxygen naturally. In most medical scenarios when intubation is prescribed, it is absolutely mandatory.

Moreover, as long as a patient is intubated, he or she cannot speak or eat in the usual manner. Generally, the physician will regulate the total time a patient spends under intubation. He will calculate this time by review the patient’s history, health status, and other vital criteria. It is only when the doctor agrees to wean the patient off the tube that one can remove this external respiratory support.

References

  1. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1365-2044.1987.tb04039.x
  2. https://academic.oup.com/bja/article-abstract/61/2/211/287269
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