Intensive Care Glossary


Advance directive
Instructions to family, friends, physicians and others which describe a person's preferences for medical treatment, should they become incapacitated. Advance directives include living wills, durable power of attorney (for health care) and the assignment of surrogate decision-makers to make decisions on the patient's behalf. Allied health professionals
Individuals who have received special training to help take care of the patient. Examples include laboratory personnel, X-ray technicians, physiotherapists (PT), occupational therapists (OT), and others.
Attending physician
The primary physician who is ultimately responsible for the decisions made about the care of the patient.
Arterial line
A small tube or catheter that is inserted into the artery to continuously monitor the blood pressure.


Blood pressure cuff
A large cuff placed on the arm or the leg, which may be automatically or manually inflated so that the amount of pressure in the arteries can be evaluated.


Central line/PA catheter
A catheter in the neck, chest, or groin that help in monitoring and treating the flow of blood. Some of these catheters may be used for giving nutrition and other medications.
Chest tube
A larger tube inserted between the skin on the chest and the lungs. This tube removes free air or blood that may make it difficult for the patient to breathe.
Critical care
The specialized medical and nursing care provided to patients facing an immediate life-threatening illness or injury.
Critical care continuum
The series of events that begins when the critically ill or injured patient first receives treatment, is transported and stabilized, is hospitalized and recovers from their illness or injury.
Critical care pharmacologist
Doctors of medicine or pharmacology who work with other members of the critical care team to prescribe and monitor the drugs needed by the patient.
Critical care unit (CCU)
A location in the hospital where critical care is provided. Frequently referred to as the intensive care unit (ICU). Critical care units include the medical intensive care unit (MICU), the surgical intensive care unit (SICU), the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU), the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), coronary care unit (CCU) and the burn unit.
Critical care team
The multiprofessional team of health care professionals who care for critically ill and injured patients. The critical care team includes the critical care intensivist, critical care nurse, respiratory therapist and pharmacologist. Other allied health therapists and technicians, social workers and clergy may also participate as members of the critical care team.


Dialysis catheter
A tube-like catheter inserted in the groin or neck. The catheter is hooked up to external tubing and a dialysis machine, which cleans the blood and assists the kidneys.
Do-not resuscitate (DNR) order
An order which, when written on a patient's chart, instructs physicians and nurses to not attempt to re-start the patient's failed heartbeat or respiration.
Durable power of attorney for health care
The legal document which gives another person -a surrogate decision-maker - the authority to make health care decisions on behalf of a patient when the patient is unable to do so for themselves.


Electrocardiography (ECG)
Procedure used to measure the electrical activity of the heart muscle. It provides information about how the heart functions. The record produced by ECG is known as an electrocardiogram.
Emergency room (ER)
The emergency room treats patients with a wide variety of problems, from minor to life-threatening. ICU patients often are first seen in the emergency room and then transferred to the ICU.
Endotracheal tube (ETT)
A breathing tube inserted through the mouth or nose that is connected to an assisted breathing machine (ventilator).


Heart monitor leads
Sticky pads are placed on the chest of almost every ICU patient in order to monitor the electrical activity of the heart.


Informed consent
The process that occurs when patients are informed about the alternatives for medical treatment that are available to them and are asked to decide which, if any, of the treatments they would like to receive.
Intensive care unit (ICU)
Synonymous with the critical care unit.
A critical care physician whose medical practice is focused entirely on the care of critically ill and injured patients.
Intra-aortic balloon pump (IABP)
A catheter inserted into the groin that assists the heart with pumping blood.
Intracranial pressure catheter and/or ventriculostomy
A small tube or catheter inserted into the brain to monitor the brain swelling. This may also be used to drain excess fluid.


Life support
Treatment that includes mechanical ventilation, administration of nutrition and hydration, support of the heart and other interventions to prolong a patient's life.
Living will
A type of advanced directive; see Advanced directive above.



Refers to the many people with different backgrounds and training required to care for the critically ill patient. See Critical care team above.


Nasogastric tube
A tube inserted into the stomach or intestines to provide nutrition and remove gastric acid or secretions.


Peripheral IV
A small plastic tube placed into the vein that is used to give fluid or medications.
Persistent vegatative state
A neurological condition in which the brain has been damaged so that the patient is not aware and can not interact with other people.
Pulse oximeter
A small probe attached to the finger, nose, or ear that helps monitor the oxygen in the blood and the patient's pulse.



A machine that is attached to an endotracheal tube to deliver oxygen to a patient's lungs to assist with the breathing process.
Respiratory therapist
A health care practitioner who is specially educated and experienced in caring for patients who have breathing problems. They are trained in the use of ventilators (respirators).


Sepsis/septic shock
Overwhelming infection that causes heart, blood vessel and cell dysfunction.
Society of Critical Care Medicine (SCCM)
The Society of Critical Care Medicine, the leading multiprofessional membership organization of critical care practitioners, with nearly 13,000 members worldwide. SCCM is dedicated to advancing multiprofessional critical care through excellence in patient care, education, research and advocacy.
Surgical area
The place in the hospital where the operating rooms are located.


Tracheostomy tube
A breathing tube inserted in the neck usually when ventilator (assisted) breathing is needed for a long period of time.
Trauma center
A hospital which has special training and resources to take care of patients who are injured.
The medical assessment of the urgency of a patient's illness or injury that determines their priority for treatment.
Tube feeding

Liquid nutrition given to patients when they can not eat. Tube feeds are given through a tube into a patient's stomach or intestines.

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