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Respiratory Conditions

Pneumonia is a serious lung disorder, which leads to a number of patients being admitted to intensive care units, especially the elderly and people who are already ill.

What does the Respiratory System do?

The respiratory system consists of the lungs, airways and blood vessels. The function of the respiratory system is to absorb oxygen into the body and to remove carbon dioxide from the body. A normal breath requires a complex coordination between the nervous system (brain & spinal cord) and the muscles of breathing (including the diaphragm and muscles between the ribs).

Abnormal and or inadequate breathing can occur as a result of:

  • An interruption to the nervous system (head injuries or spinal injuries for example)
  • Barriers to the absorption of oxygen (eg fluid in the alveoli);
  • Obstruction to the flow of gases through the lungs, both breathing in or out (eg asthma);
  • Damage to the rib cage (in motor vehicle trauma for example);
  • Pain, which makes taking a normal breath difficult.

There are many respiratory conditions which if not treated can result in respiratory failure and require the patient to be admitted to a high dependency or intensive care unit for further monitoring and ventilation support (help with breathing). This support may be through the use of oxygen masks, CPAP or via a breathing tube(endotracheal tube) and ventilator (breathing machine).


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What is it?

Pneumonia is a serious lung disorder, which leads to a number of patients being admitted to intensive care units, especially the elderly and people who are already ill. Pneumonia occurs when an organism, most commonly a bacteria, causes an overwhelming infection in the lungs leading to inflammation and sputum production. This makes the absorption of oxygen difficult and increases the work of the respiratory system. Unfortunately in a number of cases the infection overwhelms the patient and they may show signs of severe shock and other organ failure.

What happens in intensive care?

When a patient is admitted to intensive care for treatment of pneumonia, the cause of the infection is investigated and drug treatment will differ according to the suspected or known organism. Management of the patient will depend on critically ill they have become. Treatment includes oxygen therapy, intravenous fluids and antibiotics to fight the infection. . When patients require admission to a high dependency or intensive care their condition is serious, as they have now developed severe respiratory failure. Often they will require assistance to breathe. This may be non-invasive mask ventilation using a BiPAP machine or full support using an endotracheal tube (breathing tube) and ventilator (the breathing machine). Close monitoring of vital signs may be done using an arterial line, oxygen saturation monitor and a bedside monitor.

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How long will the patient remain in Intensive Care?

The length of time the patient remains in intensive care depends largely on the patient’s ability to fight off the infection, the whole body’s response to the infection and how long they require mechanical assistance to breathe. Most people will recover but this depends on their general well being before becoming ill and how severe the pneumonia has been. Unfortunately in some severe cases the patient may die.

The information contained in this sheet is general in nature and therefore cannot reflect individual patient variation. It is provided as a back up to specific information which will be discussed with you by the Doctors and Nurses caring for your loved one.

Please refer to the general terms and conditions

Pneumonia ~ Version 1 September 2004 (Authors C Inness & K Rolls)

Posted December 2004

Last Updated on Friday, 11 February 2011 12:55