UMEM Educational Pearls

There are many ventilator modes to choose from, but almost every mode can be distilled down to its basic principles by understanding the “Three T's of Mechanical Ventilation”

Trigger: You must determine whether the vent or patient will trigger a mechanical breath. For example, machine-triggered breaths (a.k.a. control mode of ventilation) are used for paralyzed patients and will deliver a breath after a period of time has elapsed (e.g., if RR is 10/min, then a breath is given every 6 seconds). On the other hand, if a patient’s respiratory drive is intact (a.k.a. assist-mode) than the patient triggers the breath when the vent detects a patient induced change in airflow or airway pressure. These two modes can also be mixed together.

Target: Mechanical breaths must have a specific target, either a target airway pressure or a tidal volume. Because pressure and volume are directly related, pick the variable you want to target and the other parameter will vary depending on the patient’s intrinsic physiology. For example, if you choose to target a specific tidal volume, we may get one plateau pressure in a patient with normal lungs, but a higher plateau pressure in another patient with stiffer lungs.

Terminate: You must decide when the mechanical breath (i.e., inspiration) terminates and expiration begins. Termination occurs: 1) after a set inspiratory time has elapsed in certain pressure-targeted modes, 2) when a predefined target volume has been achieved (i.e., volume-cycled modes), or 3) when airflow has been reduced by a certain percentage (as in pressure-support ventilation; to be discussed separately)

Let’s put this all together by looking at an example: pressure control ventilation (rate = 12/min and target pressure 20cm H20). Trigger: Because this is a “control”, not assist mode, the machine will trigger a breath 12 times per minute or every 5 seconds. Target: Here we chose to have pressure be the target, so when the ventilator triggers a breath it will deliver a constant airway pressure of 20 cmH2O until we tell the vent terminate that breath. Terminate: the constant airway pressure will be turned off after a fixed period of time has elapsed; for this example we will set the inspiratory time as 1 second, then expiration begins. Now, after a few vent breaths we will observe the results of our settings and reassess; if the resulting tidal volume is lower than what we wanted, we will increase the target pressure to increase the tidal volume. If the tidal volume is higher than what we wanted, we will reduce the target pressure to reduce the tidal volume. We can also tweak the inspiratory time to manipulate the tidal volume, but this does so to a lesser degree.

Try to break down your favorite modes of ventilation using the Three T’s and see if this helps you understand vent modes better. 


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