How Long Can You Be On A Ventilator (And Why)?

Exact Answer: Maximum Three Weeks

When a patient is in an Intensive Care Unit, they tend to lose the ability to breathe by themselves. In such a case, a patient is put on a ventilator to help the patient in breathing. Ventilators are machines that support patient breathing either partially or fully.

There can be many instances due to which a person can find difficulty in breathing. In severe cases, the patient might not be able to breathe on their own. Hence, it becomes vital to put them on ventilators for a certain period till they recover.

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How Long Can You Be On A Ventilator?

The main objective of the ventilator is to supply oxygen to the lungs of an individual and remove the carbon dioxide. The machine helps the patient to make their breathing process easy. There are a few circumstances where the patient cannot breathe on their own. It can be due to an injury or illness or during surgery when they are sedated.

However, there is a time limit to how long a person can be on a ventilator. Generally, a patient is put on a ventilator only for a couple of hours. But there can be situations where the patient is put on a ventilator for weeks. It is done mainly in extreme cases. 

Ventilators only act as life support and help in breathing. It will not treat any illness or medical condition. Also, more often than not, a patient is put on life support only for a few weeks. Because if the period is extended, it can cause a lot of other problems to the patient.

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The period for which the patient will be on a ventilator strictly depends on the criteria of the disease. It is a viable option for patients since it might involve little or no pain. If the need arises for further use of ventilation, a tracheostomy is done to avoid the need for extended use.

Reason for putting the patient on ventilatorDuration for which the patient is put on a ventilator
SurgeryA few hours
Illness or life-threatening diseasesMaximum three weeks

Why Can You Be On A Ventilator For That Long?

The ventilator can be very helpful for a needy patient, but it can also cause various problems, and so a patient is kept on a ventilator for a limited time. There are a few more reasons why a patient is put on a ventilator for a maximum of three weeks. The reasons are as follows:

  • The primary reason for the limited time is the side effects of prolonged ventilator use. One such side effect is an infection. The breathing tube that is put in the patient’s airway can become the grounds for bacteria. This bacteria can get into the lungs via a tube, and then it can cause infections. A patient is already sick, and getting another infection can cause more severe problems like pneumonia. 
  • Putting in the breathing tube and passing oxygen to the body from outside is a risky task. Every little detail matters, like the pressure of the oxygen, or the speed at which the oxygen is transferred to the body. A minor imbalance in the mixture can lead to many problems including lung failure. To avoid any problems, it is made certain that the patient is not put on the ventilator for too long.
  • When a patient is on a ventilator, they get used to immobility. Prolonged use of ventilators can increase the chances of having trouble getting back to having proper mobility. Hence it becomes necessary to restrict the period for which the patient is on a ventilator.
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Conclusion

Being on ventilators can also cause problems like Delirium. That is the patient will have a problem reading, write or remembering things. The longer the duration for which the person will be on a ventilator, the more serious problems can happen.

When the ventilator is taken off, there are other problems also like vocal cord issues. It might also take some time for the patient to get used to breathing on their own. If any serious problems persist, it is best to consult the doctor.

References

  1. https://www.atsjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1164/ajrccm.165.7.2105078
  2. https://europepmc.org/article/med/8420720