Intensive care

What is intensive care?

Intensive care, or critical care, describes the care and treatment given to patients who are seriously ill. Most hospitals have a department dedicated to these cases, known as the intensive care unit (ICU) or critical care unit (CCU).

Intensive care medicine involves the diagnosis and management of very serious, or even life-threatening conditions or injuries. Patients treated under intensive care often require invasive monitoring, organ support or donation, feeding tubes, heavy painkillers, or surgery.

Who needs intensive care?

Patients require intensive care if they are seriously ill or injured, and require intensive treatment and/or need to be monitored. Most ICU patients have problems with at least one organ.

There are several conditions and situations that may result in a person needing critical care:

  • Serious infections, including severe pneumonia, sepsis, etc.
  • Severe health incidents, e.g. heart attack, stroke, etc.
  • Severe injuries, e.g. head injuries, intense burns, stab wounds, etc.
  • Aftermath of surgery – this could be an expected part of the recovery plan, or due to complications during an operation.

What does intensive care involve?

Patients in intensive care are closely monitored by a team which usually includes a specialist doctor and a team of nurses, and intensive treatment will be administered as necessary, according to the condition.

A variety of special equipment may be used to monitor the patient’s health and support their body until it recovers sufficiently to function on its own. Examples include:

  • Ventilator – a machine that assists the patient with breathing via a tube inserted in the mouth, nose, or throat.
  • IV lines and pumps – tubes that provide fluids, nutrition and medication directly to the bloodstream via a vein.
  • Feeding tubes – these are inserted through the nose or directly into the stomach via an incision for patients who are unable to eat on their own.
  • Catheters – inserted into the bladder via the urethra to drain urine.
  • Monitoring equipment – doctors are able to monitor blood pressure, blood oxygen levels, and heart rate, among other things.

Due to pain caused by their condition/injury, or due to the discomfort some of this equipment can cause, many critical care patients are on heavy painkillers or sedatives.

Post-operative care

Once a patient has recovered sufficiently, they are usually transferred to a different ward to complete their recovery. Depending on the severity of the condition or injury, a patient may stay in intensive care for days or months. It is not uncommon to experience weakness and stiffness, fatigue, loss of appetite, sleep problems, and even psychological problems like depression or anxiety after being discharged from critical care. However, if these problems persist, you should seek medical advice.

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