What Is an Intensive Care Unit?

Patients in intensive care often need advanced support from equipment and constant monitoring by nurses.
During hospitalization, fluid and electrolyte replacement is typically necessary.
Patients may be admitted to an intensive care unit following a major operation.
Article Details
  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 17 August 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
  • Print this Article

An intensive care unit (ICU) is an area of a hospital reserved for patients who need close and consistent monitoring due to the nature of their illness, injury, or other condition. Intensive care units typically feature highly trained staff, and are usually equipped to handle a variety of emergency situations. Patients in an ICU often remain in the area until their condition reaches a point where physicians feel a less rigorous monitoring and care regime is warranted.

A hospital may have not just one intensive care unit, but an entire department or wing devoted to specialized ICU care. Infants in need of critical care, for instance, are often in a different ICU area than post-operative patients. Dividing an ICU into specialized areas allows better organization and ensures that the most likely needed staff and equipment are on hand for each type of patient.

Workers in an ICU usually have considerable training in intensive care. Many different people may work in an intensive care unit, including general physicians, specialists, nurses, physical therapists, psychologists, and chaplains. Doctors typically make rounds of ICU patients several times a day, and some hospitals only permit each on-duty nurse to monitor a few patients at a time. Staff in the ICU must adhere to rigorous hygiene and care procedures, in order to ensure that all patients are protected from potential infections, and that each patient is carefully monitored and treated as his or her condition requires.

Ad

People may be sent to the ICU for many different reasons. In many hospitals, it is routine for patients to be admitted to the intensive care unit following a major operation, even if there were no complications during the procedure. Emergency patients who are admitted to the hospital may be placed in the intensive care unit if they have received severe injuries that may affect vital signs, or if they have undergone a serious medical trauma such as a heart attack or stroke. Patients that develop severe infections may be isolated in the ICU, both to protect other patients and because of the generally higher hygiene standards in the area. Other patients in the ICU may have existing health conditions that require them to use specialized equipment in the unit, such as ventilators.

Visiting a person in an intensive unit can be an unnerving experience. Since patients need careful monitoring, they are typically hooked up to many machines that track their vital signs, and may be receiving IV medications or fluids. This can look frightening, but is generally not painful for the patient and not an indication that he or she is in any sudden danger. Visitors to the intensive care unit may be able to visit during more hours than in other wings of the hospital, but are asked to stay away if they are ill or have recently been exposed to a cold or flu. Only one or two people may be permitted to visit an ICU patient at a time, and allowed visitors may be limited to family and authorized guests.

Ad

Discuss this Article

Wisedly33
Post 2

Most of the ICU areas I've seen have very strict visiting hours. They will usually allow one or two people back at a time for a certain length of time, and then the unit is closed for, say two hours, and there are no after hours visits unless the patient turns critical.

There is nothing more awful than getting an early morning phone call when you have a loved one in ICU. It's almost always very bad news.

I don't know how ICU nurses do it, since they have to be on the unit all the time, but I certainly take my hat off to them. They have an incredibly difficult job, but most of them are fantastic. I salute them.

Scrbblchick
Post 1

They're also the most depressing places on earth -- second only to the ICU waiting rooms.

The ICU area is usually very quiet, and rooms are often glassed in and grouped around the nurse's desk, so the nurse has a full view of all the rooms at all times.

I'm certainly glad they're available, but I never want to visit in one again, for sure. Unless it's a step down unit which is more like a regular hospital floor, when you walk in, you can feel the seriousness of the place. People are waiting either to be moved to another floor, or to die. It's that simple.

Post your comments

Post Anonymously

Login

username
password
forgot password?

Register

username
password
confirm
email