Although the physiological effects of positive pressure ventilation are numerous, sometimes undesirable and have varying degrees of significance, positive pressure ventilation still plays a major role in the resuscitation and treatment of critically ill patients. Advances in the various methods of delivering positive pressure, especially when incorporating spontaneous breathing, have reduced the severity of complications. Despite serious complications, mechanical ventilation has advantages. When it is instituted for ventilatory and hypoxaemic respiratory failure, the benefits can be viewed in the context of the work of breathing. Spontaneous breathing normally requires 5% of total oxygen delivery to meet its demands. In lung disease, the ratio of oxygen consumption by the respiratory muscles to whole body oxygen consumption can increase to 25-30% (Henning 1986, Pinksy 1990). Mechanical ventilation reduces the energy demand of respiratory muscles and increases the oxygen delivery to other vital organs. When mechanical ventilation improves hypoxaemia and/or hypercarbia, or significantly decreases the work of breathing, it may also normalize associated changes in heart rate (Perel & Pizov 1991 p53). When cardiac output is increased in response to the increased work of breathing and associated stress, the institution of mechanical ventilation may beneficially lower the cardiac output simply due to the decrease in oxygen demand; thus the physiological reduction in cardiac output may not necessarily be regarded as a complication. The effects of raised intrathoracic pressure during mechanical ventilation may be beneficial when used to prevent or reduce pulmonary oedema, though problematic in some other situations. Mechanical ventilation is a life-saving treatment which has many associated complications; nurses have to accept the unavoidable hazards and adapt their nursing care to minimize their effects.