Glossary of ICU terms

You will inevitably hear terms or abbreviations when you're in ICU that are unfamiliar to you. This is a listing of some of the most common terms and an explanation of what they mean.

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Acute respiratory distress syndrome - when the lungs do not work sufficiently leading to rapid and shallow breathing.
Artificial kidney machine
A machine, which removes blood from a patient, purifies it by dialysis, adds vital substances, before returning it to a vein.
Breathing Machine (Ventilator)
The breathing machine blows air and oxygen in and out of the lungs. The breathing machine can do all the breathing for the patient or it can assist the patient's own breathing
A hollow flexible tube for insertion into a body cavity, duct, or vessel to allow the passage of fluids or distend a passageway. One use includes the drainage of urine from the bladder through the urethra.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease - refers to a number of chronic lung disorders that obstruct air flow. The most common form of COPD is a combination of chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
Critical care
Critical care is the multidisciplinary healthcare specialty that cares for patients with acute, life-threatening illness or injury.
Critical care team
The multidisciplinary team of health care professionals who care for critically ill and injured patients. The critical care team includes predominantly the critical care intensivist and the critical care nurse. Other healthcare professional such as physiotherapists, pharmacist, technicians, social workers and clergy may also participate as members of the critical care team.
Department of Critical Care (see ICU)
Endotracheal Tube
This tube is inserted through either the patient's nose or throat and into the windpipe. You may also hear it being referred to as an ET Tube.
This is a machine that helps the kidneys work. It removes blood from a vein through a tube then pumps it through a filter to remove excess fluid and waste products. Once the waste products are cleaned out of the blood, the blood is returned to the patient.
Intensive Care Unit - a specialised section of a hospital containing the equipment, medical and nursing staff, and monitoring devices necessary to provide intensive care.
Intensive Therapy Unit - see ICU
A critical care physician whose medical practice is focused entirely on the care of critically ill and injured patients.
A drug, nutrient solution, or other substance administered into a vein.
An electronic device used to record, regulate, or control the patient's heartbeat, blood pressure and oxygen levels.
Severe sepsis
Overwhelming infection that causes heart, blood vessel and cell dysfunction.
Speaking Valve
When a patient has a tracheostomy they are unable to use their voice. The speaking valve is placed on the tracheostomy and allows the patient to use their voice. The speaking valve is only used as the patient's condition improves.
A tracheostomy is a tube that is inserted into the windpipe via a hole in the patient's throat. This sounds very daunting and can look strange, but it is much more comfortable for the patient and means they can be awake.
Urinary Catheter
This is a tube that is passed into the bladder, and allows the nurses to monitor how much urine is produced each hour.
A machine that delivers oxygen to a patient's lungs to assist with the breathing process.
This is a term used when a patient is being taken off of the breathing machine, and is only undertaken when their condition is improving.