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What is ventilator-associated pneumonia and how can it be prevented?

When critically ill patients are placed on ventilators to provide mechanical breathing, they are at increased risk for pneumonia. Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs. Ventilator-associated pneumonia is the leading cause of death among healthcare-associated infections and aggressive prevention efforts are indicated.


Several health care provider practices can reduce the risk of pneumonia:

  1. The head of the patient’s bed should be elevated 30 to 45 degrees, to assist with regular expansion of the lungs.
  2. Medical staff should undertake a daily assessment of the patient’s readiness to remove the ventilator. Prompt removal of unnecessary devices can help decrease the chance of infection.
  3. Medication to prevent peptic ulcer disease should be considered; peptic ulcer disease may put a critically ill patient at increased risk for pneumonia.
  4. Preventive medication for deep vein thrombosis (DVT), or the development of blood clots, should be prescribed.

All critically ill patients are at increased risk of this complication. Collectively minimizing all risks of complications for people on ventilators may have additive protection.

What can you do as a patient?

  1. If you smoke, quit. Patients who smoke get more infections. If you are going to have surgery and will need to be on a ventilator, talk to your doctor before your surgery about how you can quit smoking.
  2. Discuss prevention recommendations with family members.
  3. Family members can ask about raising the head of the bed.
  4. Family members can ask when the patient will be allowed to try breathing on his or her own.
  5. Family members can ask doctors, nurses, and other health care providers to clean their hands. If they do not see your providers clean their hands, they should ask them to do so.
  6. Family members can ask about how often health care providers clean the patient's mouth.

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