What is life support?
Life support refers to various medical procedures designed to keep you alive until your body is ready to take over again. A failing bodily function is replaced or supported by life support. You may need life support until your body returns to normal. Life support does not mean death. But sometimes, your body never gains the ability to function without it.
Life support measures can maintain your life while the body recovers. A failing organ is replaced or supported by life support. The choice to begin, decline or discontinue life support is very personal.
Make an informed decision regarding certain types of life support before making any judgments about those kinds. In particular, it is important to understand the rewards and the responsibilities that the treatment will bring you or the people you care about.
When should it be started?
Your doctor will start life support as soon as your body needs it. But they won’t start life support if:
• You ask them not to.
• You left written legal documents refusing treatment.
• Your family members refuse life support on your behalf.
There is no medical benefit to initiating life support. It’s possible that certain treatments could be helpful if they alleviate suffering, help you get your function back, or boost your overall quality of life. But the same treatment can be a burden if it causes pain or prolongs the dying process. Your decision to refuse life support is deeply personal.
When should life support be stopped?
You may be on life support for an extended period of time. Your health care providers will let you or your loved ones know if it is worth continuing life support. There are times when your body may not fully recover, but providers recommend ongoing support (such as dialysis and tube feedings) because there is a chance you can make a meaningful recovery. Other times, your provider may recommend ending life support if there is little chance of a meaningful recovery.
Ending treatment is a deeply personal decision. It is legally and ethically okay to discontinue treatment that is no longer beneficial. You and your loved ones must remember: that death is caused by the underlying disease – not by stopping treatment.
What are the different types?
A machine or a ventilator could be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the term “life support.” Life support refers to any medical intervention that keeps your body functioning and alive, including mechanical ventilation, which is just one type. There are several types of life support.
Mechanical ventilation augments or replaces lung function. A breathing machine called a respirator pushes air into your lungs. The ventilator is connected to a tube inserted through the mouth or nose and down into the airway. This is called intubation.
Mechanical ventilation is often used to help you overcome a short-term problem. It is also used long-term for irreversible respiratory failure. It can be caused by a spinal cord injury or a progressive neurological disease.
If your loved one is dying, mechanical ventilation can only prolong the dying process until other body systems fail. It can supply air but cannot improve the underlying condition.
Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation
ECMO is similar to mechanical ventilation. But a breathing apparatus can only get air into the lungs. They cannot directly add oxygen to the blood or remove carbon dioxide from the blood. ECMO can directly exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide instead of your lungs.
The ECMO procedure constantly removes blood from your body. Your blood is routed through such a series of equipment that provides oxygen and removes carbon dioxide. Your blood can then be reintroduced into your body.
CPR is a group of treatments used in cardiac and/or respiratory arrest. CPR is used to try to support your body and restart your heart and breathing. Electric shocks (defibrillation), chest compressions, and medications are used to boost circulation and try to restart your heart.
CPR has the potential to save a person’s life if it is administered promptly in reaction to an unexpected incident such as a heart attack or drowning. However, the likelihood of success is exceedingly low for patients who are towards the conclusion of the course of their terminal illness. Patients who are critically ill and are receiving cardiopulmonary resuscitation typically have very little chance of making a substantial recovery and escaping the hospital alive.
Automated external defibrillator
A portable medical gadget that has the ability to treat some types of cardiac arrest is known as an AED. Cardiac arrest can occur when your heart rhythm does not support a pulse or circulation.
The AED analyzes your heart rhythm to see if it is beating too fast or irregularly. An AED delivers an electrical shock (defibrillation) that can help your heart return to a normal rhythm.
Artificial nutrition and hydration
Artificial nutrition and hydration (tube feeding) replace or supplement normal eating and drinking. It involves providing a chemically balanced mixture of nutrients and fluids through a tube placed either through the nose into the stomach or directly into the stomach itself. In some cases where the normal function of your GI tract is altered, nutrition may be given intravenously—this is called total parenteral nutrition, or TPN.
Artificial nutrition and hydration can save your life until your body heals. Long-term tube feeding may be necessary if you have irreversible and end-stage conditions. Treatment often does not reverse the course of the disease itself or improve your quality of life.
Dialysis is a treatment that replaces the function of damaged or non-functioning kidneys. It involves using a special device to filter harmful wastes and excess fluid from the blood. This restores the normal and healthy balance of the blood.
Dialysis is not a cure for kidney failure and does not affect the basic function of your kidneys. If your kidneys are not working and you stop dialysis, your kidneys will continue to fail. You cannot survive without at most one working kidney.
For many patients, the hardship of dialysis is offset by an increase in quality of life. However, for some patients, the costs of dialysis exceed the advantages, particularly if they have a terminal disease in addition to renal failure.