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What Is A Ventilator, And How Do They Work?

With covid-19 sweeping the globe, causing severe illness in millions, ventilators are among the most important topics in the world today. But few know the finer points of how these machines work, why they are so crucial for saving lives, and why it’s so hard to produce more of them. 

A mechanical ventilator is a machine that aids breathing for a patient with respiratory distress – essentially an external set of lungs. 

SARS-CoV-2 targets cells in the lungs, and can cause enormous amounts of inflammation, cell death, and fluid build up there, all of which cause patients to have severe trouble breathing. This trouble can include the inability to get enough oxygen into their bloodstream and to their organs and brain. 

A mechanical ventilator costs about $50,000.

Medical ventilator diagram / medical illustration by Dr. Anthony Hage

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About the author

Dr. Anthony Hage is an interventional radiologist at Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals. He graduated with an M.D. from the University of Michigan Medical Schools.

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