Pressure Control Ventilation

Now that we have fully discussed volume control ventilation, we will move on to pressure control. All of the principles we have learned so far still apply. The main difference between the two categories of ventilation is that in volume control, you set the volume, but in pressure control, you do not directly set the volume. Instead, in pressure control you set the pressure.

Pressure Control Ventilation (ACPC, PCV, CMV-PC) is a full control mode of ventilation—the ventilator will control all phases of the breath delivered based on the set parameters. Exhalation is still passive. The clinician sets a minimum of how often breaths will be delivered and sets the positive pressure applied (pressure control) to the lungs that causes the lungs to inflate with volume. The pressure delivered is constant and does not change breath to breath unless the clinician changes it.

Apply Your Learning

So, if the pressure is what is constant here, what will change if the pressure changes? Think back to the relationship of pressure, volume and time. If you increase the pressure applied to a balloon, how will the inflation change? (If you guessed the volume of inflation would increase, you got it! )

Volume will vary based on changes to the set pressure control. The higher the pressure delivered, the higher the volume.  But just like volume control where the pressures can change breath to breath based on lung condition, we see the same thing in pressure control with the volume changing breath to breath based on the compliance and resistance of the lungs. If the compliance increases, the same pressure control will give you a larger volume. If the resistance increases, this will decrease the volume into the lungs.

Think back to the analogy of the balloon versus the tire for compliance. If no change in pressure is applied, which object will inflate larger with the same pressure?

Now, recall the analogy of lane closures on a highway for resistance in the airways. How would opening a lane back up—decreasing resistance—affect the volume of traffic getting through?

With the same amount of pressure given, the balloon would inflate quicker and easier than a tire, resulting in a higher volume inside the balloon. The same thing occurs with lungs. With the same pressure control settings, “stiffer” lung tissue that has poor compliance or increased resistance will exhibit smaller volumes than “healthy” lungs with normal compliance and resistance.

Two tires at a racetrack sit ready for the pit crew to use.
Just as tires require air compressors to inflate because they offer high resistance, lung tissue can be stiffer in patients with certain conditions.

Let’s apply this concept to our asthma patient. During an acute asthma exacerbation (asthma attack), their airway has increased resistance to air coming in. Any pressure being pushed in would conclude with less volume in the lungs compared to a healthy lung with normal airway resistance. Asthmatic airways decrease the flow of air getting into the lungs and resist inflation. If bronchodilators were given and the airways started to open, the lung volumes would start to increase as the airway resistance starts to return to normal.

Apply Your Learning

Consider the case of pressure control ventilation with no change in the set pressure. What would happen to the volume delivered if the compliance of the lungs decreased and they became much stiffer and less stretchy?

In pressure control, the volumes being delivered over time is an additional vital sign that you can trend to see whether the lungs are improving or getting worse. Volumes must be continuously monitored to ensure they are enough to effectively ventilate your patient, but not too high that they cause damage. Pressure control (Inspiratory Pressure) should be limited to deliver tidal volumes within a safe range for the patient’s lungs. We will discuss this concept further in Chapter 5 when we outline pressure control settings.

Key Takeaway

Overdistension and damage to alveoli doesn’t just occur with high pressures; the same can occur with high volumes. Pressure control (Inspiratory Pressure) should be limited to deliver tidal volumes within a safe range for the patient’s lungs.

Summary of Basic Settings

In A/C pressure control, you will directly set:

  • Respiratory Rate (RR or f)
  • Pressure Control (PC)
  • Inspiratory Time (IT)
  • PEEP (every ventilator, every time)
  • FiO2 (every ventilator, every time)
In A/C pressure control,  you will observe but not directly set:

  • Tidal Volume (Vt)
  • Inspiratory flow (V)
  • Peak Inspiratory Pressure (PIP or Ppeak)
  • I:E

The clinician will set how often a minute the breaths are being delivered. Also set is the driving pressure of air into the lungs, as well as the amount of time the pressure is applied for (It). What is not set in Pressure Control Ventilation (ACPC) is the specific volume being given. The volume is a direct product of the amount of driving pressure (PC), and the time that pressure is applied for (It). In other words, the pressure and time delivered would be set, and the volume would be an outcome of how long and how hard the ventilator pushes air into the lungs.

Inspiratory Flow (V) is not a set parameter either. The clinician sets the Inspiratory time (Itime) that the breath is delivered for, but the patient can alter the amount of flow that is being given by the ventilator, pulling whatever flow they require for the duration of time indicated in the set Itime.

The fact that patients can modify the flow is significant to remember for any patients who have an intact drive to breathe that exhibit symptoms of “air-hunger” (e.g., COPD exacerbations, Kussmaul respirations, Cheyne-Stoke Respirations). With abnormal neuro-driven respiratory patterns, if the patient’s inspiratory demand is really high, fixed inspiratory flows could be uncomfortable for them. They could outstrip the flow that is being offered by the ventilator, causing double triggering of breaths, asynchrony, and ventilator alarms. A pressure control mode with a flowrate that adjusts to the patient demand can in these cases be slightly more comfortable without having to make ventilator changes to try to mimic the patient’s demands.

Peak Inspiratory Pressure (PIP) is not directly set by the clinician, but it remains constant and very controllable in pressure control ventilation, as it is the sum of all pressures experienced in the lungs (PEEP + PC   ). The PIP is the highest pressure being delivered to the alveoli. Since the pressure being delivered (PC) is set, the PIP is the PC plus whatever baseline you were at (PEEP). Think back to the mountain range analogy. Standing at the bottom of a mountain, you are not at sea-level altitude. How high is the peak? It’s not just “how high the mountain is”. The altitude at the peak would be the total altitude above sea level, which would be the altitude at basecamp (PEEP), plus the height of the mountain (PC). Take look at these two examples:

  • PEEP 5 + PC 10 = PIP 15
  • PEEP 8 + PC 12 = PIP 20

Apply Your Learning

Now you try! Your ventilator settings are PEEP 6, PC 15. What is your PIP? What would your PIP be if you decrease your PC to 12?

The I:E—as explained in the previous chapter—is very important to ensure the patient has adequate time to exhale and decrease the risk of auto-PEEP (gas-trapping). The clinician sets the Inspiratory time and the respiratory rate, but not the I:E directly. The I:E is the outcome of those settings and will remain constant as long as the RR and Itime remain unchanged. If the patient starts to trigger breaths above the set RR, the I:E will change as the total RR increases with patient-triggered breaths.

Remember, IT is important to ensure the I:E is not an inverse ratio. There should always be more exhalation time than inspiration. If needed, the RR or Itime can always be adjusted to ensure adequate expiration time.

Key Takeaway

Any time you connect a patient to a ventilator, you always set FiO2 and PEEP. Therefore, in A/C pressure control, those would be set by the health care provider. In a control mode, you must decide how often the patient is breathing, as you are taking over control of the breath initiation. Therefore, the Respiratory Rate (RR) must be set. In A/C pressure control, you set the pressure of air delivered with every single breath. The pressure is always the same and will not change. Volume is not set: it is an outcome based on the pressure of air delivered and the lung mechanics of the lungs you are ventilating.

When thinking about the impact that pressure and volume have on each other and how lung compliance will affect the pressures or volumes in the lungs, always think about balloons. When thinking about how a settings change will affect the opposite, think of two identical balloons with the change to how you are blowing into the balloon (the ventilator pushing the air based on the settings). When thinking about how lung compliance and resistance affects the pressure or volumes, think about the balloon and the tire and remember what settings are constant (volume or pressure) depending on what mode you are in. From there, consider how you would need to change the set parameters to achieve the inflation you want.

Regardless of whether you ventilate in pressure control or volume control, it is important to constantly monitor the volumes being delivered and the peak pressures being experienced by the lungs. Both of these values, if left unchecked, can cause overdistention of the alveoli and result in damage. High pressures can result in barotrauma while high volume causing damage is referred to as volutrauma.

When would you use Pressure Control or Volume Control? Realistically, both modes can achieve similar outcomes as long as the clinician is setting patient-oriented ventilator settings and ventilator outcome parameters closely to ensure lungs are not exposed to over distention via barotrauma or volutrauma. Patient comfort should also be closely monitored, and settings such as RR, flow, and Itime should be changed to achieve optimal matching of patient’s demands. This approach will improve comfort and ensure ventilator synchrony—where breath delivery is matching the timing of the patient’s physiologic effort.

Hospitals tend to have preferences for how ventilators will be used, based on policies and procedures. Please refer to any hospital-specific policies for preferred modes at your specific place of work.

Media Attributions


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Basic Principles of Mechanical Ventilation Copyright © 2022 by Sault College is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book