From the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, and Department of Surgery and Radiological Sciences, University of California, Davis, Davis, CA, USA
Patients that require positive pressure ventilation to maintain sufficient alveolar ventilation or pulmonary gas exchange may eventually reach a point in the course of their care wherein mechanical ventilation is no longer necessary. This process of transferring the work of breathing from the ventilator back to the patient is referred to as ventilator weaning. The term “ventilator weaning” may be used to refer to all methods by which this transfer of workload may be accomplished. In many patients, particularly those with short-lasting or readily correctable causes of respiratory insufficiency (eg, general anesthesia), the discontinuation of positive pressure ventilation may be easily achieved. Indeed, in patients awakening from general anesthesia, the axiom “awake enough to blink, awake enough to breath” may prove to be a sufficient guideline. However, in those patients requiring long-term mechanical ventilatory support, the process can prove to be both frustrating and exceptionally challenging. It is of crucial importance to identify those patients that may be successfully weaned because of both the financial impact of prolonged intensive care unit hospitalization and the risks imposed on the patient by the process of positive pressure ventilation. To be able to predict which patients may be ready to be weaned from the ventilator requires an understanding of the balance between the work of breathing (ventilatory load) and the ability of the patient's respiratory pump to meet those needs (ventilatory capacity). The management of patients experiencing difficulty during the weaning process requires that the clinician recognize imbalances between ventilatory load and capacity and to correct these imbalances once identified.