What is Life Support?

The functioning of some organs of our body is vital for life. These organs are termed as vital organs. These chiefly include the heart, lungs and kidney.

If any of these stop functioning, the patient is likely to collapse very soon. Apart from this, it’s important that the patient receives some form of nutrition on a regular basis.

When we talk about life support, we mean providing the patient assisted functioning of any or all of these organs.

Let, for example, consider a patient with cardiac arrest. His heart has suddenly stopped beating. Various other organs would not receive any blood supply now and the patient may eventually die.

When such a patient comes to the ER, he’s put on life support, where an external pace maker is used to make his heart beat and maintain circulation. This would be called Cardiac Support, which is one of the components of life support.

Other components include a ventilator for breathing, dialysis machinery, to take up the work of the kidneys, etc.

Cardiac/ Heart Support

Heart is a very vital organ, which functions by pumping blood to each and every organ of our body. Blood carries oxygen and all essential nutrition. It also functions by taking away wastes from the cells.

Heart may suddenly stop beating, as in cardiac arrest. In other conditions, like ventricular fibrillation and other arrhythmias, the heart beats in a very un synchronised way. There is no effective forward pumping of blood.

In all above conditions, a external pacemaker may be used urgently. This machine is basically a vibrating device that sends signals are specified intervals. It provides external heart beats to the heart so as to maintain circulation, till the heart regains its functions.

Another, commonly used pill is Vassopressin. This pill constrict our blood vessels, thereby increasing the pressure of blood flowing in them. Blood is able to flow better and reach the distal organs of the body.

Failing heart may be due to other problems. Commonly, heart muscle stop contracting due to ischemia. Here, other pills like diuretics may be used.

Diuretics increase urine output, ultimately reducing the overall blood volume, and hence the load on the heart.

Drug Given To Heart Patients When They Have Swellings Over the Ankle

Diuretics are given in such cases. They increase urine output, ultimately reducing the overall blood volume, and hence the load on the heart.

Ventilatory Support

Commonest form of life support given in hospitals is a Respiratory Ventilator. It is used to make the lungs breathe by providing air pressure from outside.

It is required when your lungs are not able to suck in air and exhale it back on their own. There are many medical conditions which may lead to such situations. These include a semi comatose patients, whose brain is not functioning completely. Other conditions may be those involving the lung tissues directly.

Read more on Mechanical Ventilator, its use and complications.


The function of our kidneys is to filter out blood, removing all waste products and toxins. Also, it removes excess of any electrolyte or fluid, hence maintaining a desired blood volume.

In diseases or conditions involving the kidneys, like end stage diabetes, chronic renal failure, our kidneys are not able to carry out their function. Toxins start accumulating inside our body. These may damage internal organs, including the brain or heart and need urgent correction.

Life support measures thus include a technique called dialysis. This is given to patients where kidney function is compromised by the disease process.

A shunt is inserted via a blood vessel in the groin. This shunts blood into a dialysis machine, which carries out the functions of the kidneys, returning back clean blood into the body.

Naso Gastric Tube

Patients on ventilators are usually not able to ingest food from mouth. A naso gastric tube is generally inserted to give essential nutrition. This is a slender tube inserted either through the mouth or via the nose to enter the food pipe, taking care that it doesn’t enter the wind pipe. It is placed deep inside the food pipe, so that food doesn’t come back form it.

Semi liquid diet may then be given through it in small quantities.

Central Line

Also called central venous catheter. Here, a catheter is put directly into a main vein. Commonly used sites to put the catheter include the neck (internal jugular vein), below collar bone (subclavian vein), groin or the axillary vein.

It is used to give parenteral nutrition or medications.

How Frequently Should You Change The Dressing Around The Central Line

Change the gauge after every 2 days. The whole dressing may be changed once a week. However, if soiled or damp, change it immediately. The dressing must be tightly secure at that point.

Can Blood Samples Be Drawn From Central Lines?

Theoretically yes. However, it’s better not to use the line for drawing blood samples. This is because the catheter tube used is very soft and delicate. Venous pressure is not much.

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