Learning and Advocating

Understanding the ICU

The ICU, or intensive care unit, is for patients who need the highest level of care. The ICU has special machines and medicines to support very sick patients. The care provided in the ICU is also called critical care. The doctors, nurses, and other providers who work in the ICU have special training in critical care.

People become patients in the ICU for many reasons. People come to the ICU because they need special care or watching that is not available anywhere else. Some ICU patients are very ill and need constant monitoring and life support. Other ICU patients are not as sick but need special nursing or respiratory (breathing) care.

When people are very sick, or have had a major surgery, their medical condition can change quickly and keep changing. A main goal of critical care is to stabilize the patient so the body has a better chance to recover. Stabilizing a patient means that the ICU team is working to find out why the patient is sick and provide the right treatment.

Sometimes treatment can fix the problem right away. Often treatments called “life support” are used to support breathing, blood pressure, and other essential body functions. This support gives the providers time to figure out why the patient is sick. It also gives time for treatments that fix the problem to work.