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Learning About Mechanical Ventilation for COPD

What is mechanical ventilation for COPD?

Mechanical ventilation means that a machine is used to help you breathe. If you have COPD, you may need this treatment when your symptoms, such as shortness of breath, quickly get worse. This is called a COPD exacerbation, or flare-up.

This treatment is most often used just until you can breathe better. In rare cases, it is used for a long period of time in your home or a care facility. This is called chronic or long-term mechanical ventilation.

What are the types of ventilation?


A mask that has been sized correctly for you is placed on your face. It covers either your nose or your nose and mouth. A machine then helps your breathing. This helps decrease the work of breathing and gives you more oxygen.

This treatment may be used if a COPD flare-up makes it hard to breathe but you're still able to breathe on your own.


A breathing tube is placed in your mouth. The tube goes into your windpipe. A machine then helps with your breathing. In severe cases, the machine may breathe for you while your lung function improves. Medicines are given to help keep you as comfortable as possible. The breathing tube is removed when you are better and can breathe on your own.

Your doctor may give you this type of ventilation if you have a very severe COPD flare-up that doesn't get better with other treatment. You may get this type if:

  • You have severe trouble breathing or you can't breathe on your own.
  • You are confused or can't think clearly.
  • You have other health problems that make it more likely that non-invasive ventilation won't work.
  • You have received non-invasive ventilation but it hasn't helped your breathing.

Talk with your doctor and your family ahead of time about what kind of treatment you want for COPD flare-ups.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

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