Measures that replace or support a failing bodily function.
When patients have curable or treatable conditions, life support is used temporarily until the illness or disease can be stabilized and the body can resume normal functioning. At times, the body never regains the ability to function without life support.
Commonly used life-support measures:
Artificial nutrition and hydration
: Also called tube feeding, this measure supplements or replaces ordinary eating and drinking by giving a chemically balanced mix of nutrients and fluids through a tube placed directly into the stomach, the upper intestine, or a vein. Artificial nutrition and hydration can save lives when used until the body heals. Long-term artificial nutrition and hydration may be given to people with serious intestinal disorders that impair their ability to digest food, thereby helping them to enjoy a quality of life that is important to them. Long-term use of tube feeding frequently is given to people with irreversible and end-stage conditions. However, the treatment will not reverse the course of the disease itself or improve the person's quality of life.
Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
: This is a group of treatments used when someone's heart and/or breathing stops. CPR is used in an attempt to restart the heart and breathing. When used quickly in response to a sudden event, like a heart attack or drowning, CPR can be lifesaving. But the success rate is extremely low for people who are at the end of a terminal disease process.
: This is used to support or replace the function of the lungs. A machine called a ventilator (or respirator) forces air into the lungs. Mechanical ventilation often is used to assist a person through a short-term problem or for prolonged periods in which irreversible respiratory failure exists due to injuries to the upper spinal cord or a progressive neurological disease. Some people on long-term mechanical ventilation are able to live a quality of life that is important to them. For the dying patient, however, mechanical ventilation often merely prolongs the dying process until some other body system fails. It may supply oxygen, but it cannot improve the underlying condition.
Understanding life support measures. Clevenland Clinic.Health Library Internet. Accessed on January 19, 2011.