Background: Mechanical ventilation is an important tool in the management of respiratory failure in the critically ill patient. Although mechanical ventilation can be a life-saving intervention, it is also known to carry several side-effects and risks. Adequate oxygenation is one of the primary goals of mechanical ventilation. However, while on mechanical ventilation, patients frequently experience hypoxic events resulting from various causes, which need to be properly evaluated and treated.
Materials and methods: Data were obtained by prospectively reviewing all intensive care admissions during the period from March 2009 to March 2010 at a 651-bed urban medical center. Patients who developed hypoxemia (oxygen saturation ≤88% and a PaO2≤60 torrs) while on mechanical ventilation were investigated for the cause of hypoxic event.
Results: During the study period, 955 patients required mechanical ventilation from which 79 developed acute hypoxia. The causes of acute hypoxia in decreasing order of occurrences were pulmonary edema, atelectasis, pneumothorax, pneumonia, ARDS, endotracheal tube malfunction, airway bleeding, and pulmonary embolism.
Conclusions: Appropriate evaluation of all hypoxic events must begin at the bedside. A step-by-step approach must include a thorough physical examination. Evaluation of the endotracheal tube can immediately reveal dislodgement, bleeding, and secretions. Correlation of physical examination findings with those on chest radiograph is essential. Each hypoxic event requires a different intervention depending on its etiology. Instead of simply increasing the fraction of oxygen in the inspired air to overcome hypoxia, a concerted effort in appropriate problem solving can reduce the likelihood of an incorrect diagnosis and management response.
Keywords: Hypoxemia; hypoxia; mechanical ventilation.