Mechanical Ventilator Basics For Nurses

Mechanical Ventilator Basics For Nurses

Mechanical Ventilator

A mechanical Ventilator is a positive or negative pressure breathing device, that can maintain Ventilation and oxygen delivery for a prolonged period.

Classification of Mechanical Ventilators

They are mainly two types

Negative ventilators and positive ventilators. Negative pressures are the first-generation ventilators. Now positive pressure ventilators are used commonly.

Important normal values are used to assess the efficiency of gas exchange

P.a.O2 = 80 to 100 mm of Hg.

P.a. CO2= 35 to 45 mm of Hg.
P.h= 7.35 to 7.45.
S.p.o2 = 95 to 100%.
S.a.O2 = 95 to 100%.
E.t.CO2= 35 to 45 mm of Hg.

Negative Pressure Ventilators

1. Iron Lung or Drinker Respiratory Tank

mechanical ventilator - Iron Lung
It is used widely during the polio epidemics.
2.Body wrap or Pneumowrap and chest cuirass or tortoiseshell

mechanical ventilator - Body wrap
It is a portable device with a rigid shell.

Positive Pressure ventilators

Based on the use of the invasive artificial airway to deliver ventilation, it is 2 types.
Non-Invasive and invasive Ventilators.
Non Invasive ventilators.
This is mainly used in a home-based setup to assist breathing. Examples are CPAP and BiPAP machines.
Invasive Ventilators.
They are 3 Types
1. Pressure cycled.
2. Volume cycled.
3. Time Cycled.
Here we are discussing Pressure and Volume cycled ventilators because time-cycled ventilators are not used widely or used mainly in infants only.

Indications for Positive Pressure Ventilators

1. based on arterial blood gas report and clinical symptoms.
  1. PaO2 <50 mm of Hg with FiO2 > 60%.
  2. PaO2 >50 mm of Hg with p.H < 7.25.
  3. Respiratory rate > 35/min.
2. To decrease the work of breathing.
The leading factors are.
a.Airway obstruction.
b.Reduced Respiratory compliance.
Lung compliance is the elasticity of the lungs to expand, it will reduce due to pathological conditions like A.R.D.S.
c. High CO2 Production.
2. To Reverse life-threatening hypoxia.
The leading factors are.
a. V/Q mismatch: There is a mismatch in ventilation and perfusion ratio, normally the value is one.
c. Gas exchange limitation.
3. To Support Acute Ventilatory Failure.
The leading factors are.
a. Respiratory Center failure.
b. Mechanical Disruption.
c. Neuromuscular disorders.
d. Reduced Alveolar Ventilation.
e. Pulmonary vascular disruption.
 some conditions also lead to respiratory failure, such conditions are thoracic and abdominal surgery, drug overdose, inhalation injury, C.O.P.D, Multiple trauma, Shock, Multi-organ failure, etc.
The physiological effect of Positive pressure ventilators
1. Decreased Cardiac Output.
2. Increased incidence of barotrauma.
3. Decreased urine output. It is due to decreased cardiac output. So adequate intravenous fluid therapy to generate normal stroke volume is essential.
Basic modes of Positive Pressure ventilator
1. Controlled Mechanical  Ventilation or C.M.V.
It may be pressure-controlled or volume-controlled ventilation.
In pressure-controlled ventilation, a preset inspiratory pressure is used to deliver the required tidal volume. It may range from 5 to 35 cm of H2O to get a target Tidal volume of 6 to 8 ml / Kg of Bodyweight. For example, a patient with 70 kg required a tidal volume of  420 to 560 ml.
In Volume controlled ventilation, a preset tidal volume is used, irrespective of pressure, it will deliver a constant tidal volume in each ventilation.
The important point is that there is no patient’s triggering factor required to start ventilation. The ventilator will deliver a set rate of breath per minute irrespective of the patient’s effort of breathing if present.

mechanical ventilator - Pressure control
Pressure control
Example of Pressure Control Ventilation
2. Assist/control (Triggered) mechanical ventilation
The ventilator will respond to the patient’s triggering of breath with either a pre-set tidal volume or a pre-set level of the pressure support level.
The pressure Trigger may be set from -1 to -10 cm of H2O. Initially, it may be set to generate minimum negative pressure that is -1, gradually it can increase with the prognosis of the patient’s condition.
The volume trigger may be set from 1 to 7 liter/minute. The patient should generate a minimum amount of tidal volume to initiate a ventilator breath.
In addition,  a pre-set backup rate of breaths will occur. if the patient does not trigger at the required rate. So it is safe to use when compared to the Controlled mandatory ventilation mode.
In this ventilation, the ventilator will assist all patient’s effort of breathing, if the patient is not taking a breath, the ventilator will deliver the breath.
Pressure Support Ventilation or PSV mode
A pre-set level of inspiratory pressure support is delivered when the patient triggers a breath. The tidal volume of each breath depends upon lung compliance and respiratory rate and can be adjusted to the level of pressure support to maintain a normal range.

mechanical ventilator - Pressure support
Pressure Support Ventilation
Synchronized Intermittent Mandatory Ventilation or SIMV
It is the support mode of the volume-cycled ventilator.
 The ventilator will deliver a pre-set frequency of breaths but allows spontaneous breaths to be taken in between.
 Ventilator breaths are synchronized with these spontaneous breaths.
The main difference from assist control ventilation is, it will not assist all breath initiated by the patient but synchronize with the patient’s breath at a regular flow rate or deliver the breath if the patient’s breath is inadequate in number.
These are basic modes of ventilators, but nowadays a variety of ventilator modes are available according to patients’ respiratory needs. For example, a combination of pressure cycled and volume cycled mode and inverse ratio ventilation, etc. The primary reason is to improve oxygenation and remove excess CO2.

How to choose a ventilator mode

Controlled Mechanical Ventilation or C.M.V. is used to provide full ventilator support(when the patient is apnoeic).
Synchronized Intermittent Mandatory ventilation or SIMV is used when the patient is able to initiate some breaths but still requires ventilator assistance at a constant level; to maintain CO2 removal and oxygenation.
Pressure Support Ventilation or P.S.V mode is used to support the patient’s own respiratory efforts; allowing increased patient comfort; reduced requirement for sedation; ongoing use of respiratory muscles; and the opportunity to gradually reduce the level of support to facilitate weaning.

Mechanical Ventilator settings

The ventilator settings are used to achieve the required tidal volume. and minute volume along with the normal range of  P.a.O2; and PaCO2.
Respiratory rate (breaths/min,  f )
It is usually set at 10 to 15 breaths/min. but maybe altered to manipulate the minute volume, P.O2, and P.CO2.

Tidal Volume

It is set at 6 to 8ml / kg of body weight.
Altered if there is difficulty in optimizing PO2 and PCO2.

Minute Volume

Target range from 2.5 to 12 Liters/min.
It is the product of tidal volume and Respiratory rate.

Pressure support (cm of H2O)

It ranges from 5 to 35 cm of H2O.
It is adjusted according to the target tidal volume required.

Inspiratory: Expiratory Ratio

The normal is 1:2 but may vary from 2:1 to 1:4 in order to increase the time for inspiration in severe airflow limitation.

Trigger or Sensitivity

Volume-based trigger range from 1 to 7 Liters/minute.
Pressure-based trigger ranging from -1 to -10 cm of H2O.
Initial weaning stage; a minimum trigger needed to be set to initiate the ventilator-assisted breath.

Positive end-expiratory pressure or PEEP ( cm of H2O)

Usually set between 5 to 10 cm of H2O.
The aim of PEEP is to reduce the alveolar collapse during each exhalation and to increase the area of gas exchange with minimum FiO2.

mechanical ventilator
This is an example of settings in pressure support ventilation.
 Here FiO2 is 50 %, peep is 7 cmH2O. And pressure support is 20 cmH2O. The right side of the monitor shows the patient is getting a minute volume of 3.5 liters per minute and a tidal volume is 288 ml.

How to connect the mechanical ventilator to a patient

Following things to be ready before connecting with the ventilator.
1. Power supply/battery backup.
2. Ventilator.
3. O2 and air supply.
4. Humidifier.

Humidifier - mechanical ventilator
5. Ventilator Circuit.

Ventilator Circuit - mechanical ventilator
Ventilator Circuit
6. Catheter Mount.

mechanical ventilator
Catheter Mount
7. E.T. Tube or Tracheostomy tube.
8. AMBU bag- for giving manual breath, if needed.
Before connecting to the ventilator, a self-test run is mandatory to assure the working status of the ventilator.
Also, select the required mode and settings for the patient’s condition.
First make sure uninterrupted power supply, oxygen, and air supply to the ventilator.
Connect the ventilator circuit with the ventilator, humidifier to be attached to the inspiratory limb or tube.
The catheter mount is to be connected to the Y-end tip of the ventilator circuit. Then it connects to the endotracheal or tracheostomy tube. Ensure that the cuff of the endotracheal tube is inflated.
mechanical ventilator
The diagram shows the basic connection of a ventilator to the patient.
There may be slight changes in some kind of ventilator

Mechanical Ventilator Troubleshooting

1). High Airway pressure.

  • E.T. Tube obstruction.
  • Pneumothorax.
  • Severe Bronchospasm.
  • A buildup of secretion.
  • Patient coughing.
  • Increased peak airway pressure resulting from increased tidal volume or inspiratory time is too short.
  • Displacement of the tube. Either upward or downward.
Nursing Interventions
  • If severely compromised; remove from ventilators and manually ventilate.
  • Perform suction to clear secretion.
  • If the cause is complete obstruction of E.T., then re-intubate.
  • Auscultation of lungs for wheezing; reduction in air entry and altered breath sound.
  • If there is a pneumothorax; immediate insertion of a chest drain will cause cardiovascular compromise.
  • Check blood gas to assess ventilation status.
  • If necessary administer sedatives as per order.
  • Review ventilator settings.

2. Low airway pressure

Manifested by
sounds of leakage decreased minute volume and low airway pressure.
  • Disconnection.
  • The major leak from the ventilator.
  • Burst cuff from E.T. Tube.
  • A leak from the circuit.
  • Broncho-Pleural fistula with a massive air leak from the chest drain.
Nursing Interventions
  • Check the patient’s attachment to the ventilator.
  • Check tubing connections for leakage.
  • Check the cuff pressure.
  • Check inspiratory tidal volume; to assess the ventilator delivering adequate volume.
  • Check levels set for the alarm.
  • If still persists manually ventilate.

3. Low-minute volume

Manifested by.
  • Low Minute volume alarm.
  • Audible cuff leak.
  • Desaturation alarm.
  • Causes
  • Disconnection from the ventilator.
  • Ventilator tube leakage.
  • Broncho-pleural fistula with a chest drain in situ.
Nursing Intervention
Unless the cause of low minute volume is immediately traced out; manually ventilate the patient.
Check ventilator tubings for leakage.
Review ventilator settings.
Check cuff leakage, and auscultate the trachea if necessary.
Monitor air leakage through the chest drain.

4. High-minute volume

Manifested by.

  • High M.V. alarm.
  • Causes.
  • The patient made a respiratory effort.
  • Possible ventilator malfunction.
  • Nursing intervention
  • Check the cause of tachypnoea such as possible hypoxia or hypercapnia.
  • Review Ventilator settings.
  • So that is all about the basics of mechanical ventilation.
  • The important point is “ Follow the doctor’s order always”.
Citation: Sheila K.Adam, & Sue Osborne (2009)”Oxford Handbook of Critical Care Nursing”, Respiratory Support: Mechanical Ventilation, Chapter -10, Page No.161 to 195.


Q: What is a mechanical ventilator?

A: A mechanical ventilator is a medical device that helps people breathe by moving air in and out of the lungs. It’s used when a patient is unable to breathe on their own or requires assistance to breathe effectively.

Q: How does a mechanical ventilator work?

A: A mechanical ventilator works by delivering air to the lungs through a tube that’s placed in the patient’s airway. The machine delivers a controlled amount of air to the lungs to assist with breathing.

Q: Who needs a mechanical ventilator?

A: Patients who are unable to breathe on their own due to various reasons such as respiratory failure, lung disease, or neurological disorders may require a mechanical ventilator.

Q: What are the different types of mechanical ventilators?

A: There are several types of mechanical ventilators, including volume-cycled ventilators, pressure-cycled ventilators, time-cycled ventilators, and flow-cycled ventilators.

Q: What are the basic settings on a mechanical ventilator?

A: The basic settings on a mechanical ventilator include the tidal volume, respiratory rate, FiO2 (fraction of inspired oxygen), and PEEP (positive end-expiratory pressure).

Q: How do nurses monitor patients on a mechanical ventilator?

A: Nurses monitor patients on a mechanical ventilator by assessing their vital signs, including oxygen saturation levels, respiratory rate, and heart rate. They also monitor the patient’s airway, assess the patient’s response to the ventilator, and adjust settings as needed.

Q: What are some potential complications of mechanical ventilation?

A: Potential complications of mechanical ventilation include infection, lung injury, airway injury, and ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP).

Q: How can nurses prevent complications associated with mechanical ventilation?

A: Nurses can prevent complications associated with mechanical ventilation by maintaining proper infection control practices, monitoring patients closely, preventing aspiration, performing oral care, and providing appropriate nutrition and hydration

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