Intubated Meaning: Here’s What It Means and How to Use It

Recently hear the word intubated and wondering what it means? This article can help — read on for our complete guide on the meaning of intubated.

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With the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the nation, you’ve likely heard the word “intubated” referring to patients who are seriously ill with the virus. Despite what you may think, the medical procedure isn’t specific to the novel coronavirus — it’s actually been around for a number of years. 

That said, what exactly does intubate mean, and is it the same thing as being on a ventilator? You have questions, and we have answers. Read on as we explore our word of the day to help you better understand its meaning, usage, and more. 

What Is the Definition of Intubated?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the verb intubate means to put a tube into a hollow organ or body passage. It is commonly used to refer to the insertion of a breathing tube into the trachea (AKA, windpipe) for mechanical ventilation. 

Medical clinicians who commonly perform intubation include:

  • Anesthesiologists
  • Emergency medical doctors
  • Critical care doctors
  • Paramedics

In an emergency situation, a trained emergency medical technician (EMT) can perform intubation, but usually only under the supervision of a paramedic. 

What Are the Different Types of Intubation?

In short, intubation is a medical procedure where a healthcare clinician inserts a tube into the mouth or nose and then the airway to help move air in and out of the lungs. Other names for the procedure include airway management, endotracheal intubation, and artificial airway.  

Here are some of the different types of intubation:

  • Endotracheal intubation is when the tube (or catheter) is inserted through the mouth.
  • Nosagastric intubation is when the insertion of an endotracheal tube enters through the nose in order to reach the stomach.
  • Nasotracheal intubation is the insertion of an endotracheal tube through the nose and into the trachea.
  • Fiberoptic intubation refers to a technique in which a flexible endoscope (AKA, fiberoptic scope) with a tracheal tube loaded along its length is passed through the glottis before getting pushed off into the trachea.  
  • Tracheostomy intubation is when a tube is placed directly into the trachea through a small incision in the skin to make a surgical wound in order to create an airway. 
  • Orotracheal intubation refers to the insertion of an endotracheal tube through the mouth and into the trachea. 

Are There Any Risks During an Intubation Procedure?

Yes, there are potential complications that come with intubation. Seeing as it’s a critical or emergency medical procedure, the benefits generally outweigh the risks. 

That said, some of the potential risks of getting intubated include:

  • Bleeding
  • Abnormal heart rhythms
  • Accidental placement into the esophagus 
  • Trauma to the tissues in the chest cavity
  • Collapsed lung
  • Damage to the lips, teeth, tongue, windpipe, vocal cords, voice box (larynx), thyroid gland, or esophagus 
  • Infection
  • Fluid build-up in organs or tissues

When Is Intubation Necessary?

Intubation is a necessary procedure when an individual’s airway is damaged or blocked. Some of the common reasons why intubation may be needed include:

  • Cardiac arrest — Sudden loss of heart function
  • Airway obstruction — When airflow is blocked 
  • Injury — Any trauma to the neck, chest, or abdomen that affects the airway
  • Aspiration risk — Breathing in a substance or object, such as food, blood, or vomit
  • Breathing issue — Respiratory failure or apnea (absence of breath, usually temporary)

A person may also get intubated if they lose consciousness or need surgery that will make breathing difficult. 

Is Intubation the Same as Being on a Ventilator?

Despite what many people may think, being intubated and being on a ventilator are two totally different things — but they are related 

As mentioned earlier, intubation relies on a tube to keep the airway open. When a ventilator (aka a respirator or breathing machine) is needed, it can then be hooked up to the intubation machine to help deliver fresh oxygen into the lungs. 

According to the experts over at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ventilators have been used heavily in the intensive care unit (ICU) since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is because the coronavirus affects the lungs and therefore, one’s ability to breathe. 

Helpful Words to Know

Before we come to the conclusion of our article, we want to leave you with a little homework to help you improve your overall understanding of our word of the day, intubated

Research the words listed below and try to memorize their definitions. This will give you more knowledge of what it means to be intubated while expanding your English vocabulary:

  • Laryngoscope
  • Sedation
  • Pulmonary
  • General anesthesia
  • Stethoscope
  • Tracheotomy
  • Extubation
  • Heart failure


So, what does intubated mean?

The past tense of intubate is intubated, which refers to intubation — a medical procedure that’s commonly used in emergency situations to help a patient breathe. 

In tracheal intubation, a flexible plastic tube is placed into the trachea to help maintain an open airway. The tube can also serve as a conduit through which to administer certain drugs.


  1. COVID-19 Hospital Data | CDC
  2. Intubate | Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary
  3. Invasive Airway “Intubation” in COVID-19 Patients; Statistics, Causes, and Recommendations: A Review Article | PMC
  4. Intubation: Purpose, Procedure and Potential Risks | Cleveland Clinic