The ventilator is an advanced life support systems that are required for supporting patients who have a critical failure of their lungs. This article discusses how long is it safe to be on a ventilator and if you can live after being taken off life support?
Ventilators are respirators that artificially pump in and pump out air into and from the lungs. This helps oxygen to flow to the rest of the body parts. It is a life support system that helps the patient to breathe even when their lungs are unable to function properly.
However, a ventilator is just one of the types of different varieties of life support machines that could be applied for a patient. It is often seen that in case of failure of the lungs, the use of a ventilator is crucial. However, when a patient experiences multiple organ failure, the use of a ventilator does not suffice.
How Long Is It Safe To Be On A Ventilator?
There is a distinct lack of clarity amongst common people or the patients and their families regarding the use and utility of ventilators. Application of this life support system is an expensive one and often requires the patient to be in a state of induced coma. Again there are many patients and their relatives who resist the use of ventilators and other life support systems. It is a common question, how long is it safe to be on a ventilator?
Often patients who need ventilators must be in that state for a considerable period. This is when patients’ families get restless and question the duration for which the patient needs to be put on a ventilator. Here it is very important to note that nearly 40 to 60% of the patients who are admitted into the ICU need to be put on ventilators. This makes about roughly half the number of patients in intensive care who requires ventilators for their treatment.
Prolonged use of ventilators may be required in some patients. Usually, the use of a ventilator is defined as more than 14 to 21 days of ventilation. Studies suggest that patient that need prolonged ventilation is suffering from hypoalbuminemia, anemia, have moderate to severe illness or multiple comorbidities.1
Different patients need to be put on ventilators for different reasons and in diverse physical and medical conditions. Hence, each patient requiring a ventilator needs a different period on the life support machine and their recovery rate also varies. Hence, the period for which a patient needs to be put on a ventilator will differ from case to case.
Surgery Patients – Most patients who are admitted to the hospitals for surgery may require ventilators. This is done as a measure of precaution, when a surgery continues for a period of twelve hours to twenty-four hours, as a routine measure.
Critical Patients – In most cases, patients who need ventilators are patients experiencing a stroke, pneumonia, head injury or sepsis. Several conditions might lead to the requirement of a ventilator. Such patients are kept on ventilators for a period of three to seven days. As a thumb rule in most of the hospitals and ICUs maintaining airway and positive pressure is primary, which needs to use for ventilators.
Tracheostomy – This is a process, which is adhered to so that the person can be kept away from ventilators or can be put off from the system. In this process, an insertion is made in the windpipe of the patient. Then a pipe is inserted in this section that facilitates the process of breathing amongst the patients. This process is much easier to bear than a ventilator or a respirator. A prolonged stay in the ICU can mean infections and other problems. With tracheostomy, a gradual withdrawal from ventilation can be facilitated.
No Sign Of Recovery – Around a month with no signs of recovery is taken into consideration. If the patient does show signs of recovery during this time, the stay on ventilation can be increased. Ventilation is not a cure for the disease that has affected the body of the patient. It is a way through which the person can be kept breathing even when their lungs have failed until the time medications are given time to take action. If a person dies because of being taken off ventilation, it is not because the ventilation has been taken away but because the actual and the core health problem or the disease of the person has not been cured. Hence, if a person does not show any signs of improvement or cure or recovery within a set time of one month, doctors often open negotiations with the patients and their relatives.
Thus, the answer to the question, how long is it safe to be on a ventilator is that the use of a ventilator depends on the severity of the illness and the response of the patient. It can be considered safe to be on a ventilator if the treatment course is showing a positive outcome and the patient is recovering.
Can a Patient Live After Being Taken Off Life Support ?
Now comes the question, if a patient can live after being taken off life support. As discussed earlier, patients of various types are put on life support machines. A number of them often come off from the support system and live a perfectly normal and healthy life. The life support systems and machines help in certain functioning of the body when a particular organ of the body has stopped. The impaired organ can be made to recover with proper treatment. This is when life support systems like the ventilators can be taken off and the patient will lead a perfectly healthy life. However, if the person shows no signs of improvement during ventilation, there may not be any improvement even after life support is taken off. So, it again depends on the severity of the condition and the response to the treatment along with the improvement shown by patients during ventilation.
The number of days for which a patient will be kept on life support has to be decided by the doctor. However, when the doctor feels that there is negligible or no chance of recovery for the patient, it is an indication of which the patient’s relatives must take strong notice. A person or a patient can be kept on ventilation for an indefinite period as they can be made to stay alive for an indefinite period. Thus, it is safe to be on a ventilator for as long as the doctor suggests and whether patients can live after being taken off life support depends on how well the patients respond to treatment. However, this is an expensive proposition and might be out of reach for a large number of people, also the outcome is not positive. Ventilation works best for patients who need some life support while the treatment takes action and helps them recover.