When a relative is in the intensive care unit (2023)

If your relative is admitted to the intensive care unit aHospital, it means that his or her illness is serious enough to require the most careful degree of medical monitoring and the highest level of medical treatment. An intensive care unit (ICU) may also be called an intensive care unit or an intensive care unit.

When a relative is in the intensive care unit (1)

Your loved one may be medically unstable, meaning his or her condition may change unexpectedly and potentially deteriorate rapidly.

Usually, the very sick only need a short stay in the intensive care unit until their illness is stable enough to be transferred to a regular hospital ward. In the meantime, you may want to know what to expect while your loved one is in intensive care. You may also want to know under what circumstances you should expect your loved one to be stable enough to be discharged from the ICU. and admitted to a general hospital ward.

Types of intensive care units

The intensive care unit is a part of the hospital where patients receive close medical monitoring and care. Some hospitals also have specialized intensive care units for certain types of patients:

  • Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU): care of very small or premature babies.
  • Pediatrics (PICU): For children who need intensive care.
  • Neurological intensive care unit: Specialized care for neurologically unstable patients.
  • Cardiology Unit (CCU): Treatment of patients with severe or unstable heart problems.
  • Surgical ICU (SICU): Treatment of patients who arehe is recovering from surgery.

Why do some people need to be admitted to intensive care?

There are a variety of reasons that warrant admission to intensive care, and your loved one likely has one or more of these conditions:

  • Medically Unstable:Patients who are medically unstable and require close monitoring and frequent adjustments in medical therapy are often admitted to the intensive care unit because it is an environment suitable for close monitoring and rapid response.
  • Respiratory support required:Some patients need to be admitted to intensive care because they cannot breathe on their own and need respiratory support from a machine, such as a ventilator, to keep breathing. Many hospital departments cannot handle the care of a patient on a ventilator.Intubationis the placement of a breathing apparatus for respiratory support. Removal of respiratory support, or extubation, occurs when the patient can breathe independently.
  • Lower level of consciousness:If your loved one is unconscious, unresponsive or in acome, he or she may require care in an intensive care unit, especially if he or she is expected to improve. People who are unconscious may have suffered a severe brain injury or very extensive medical problems, which require careful care to optimize the chances of recovery.
  • Supervision is required during certain types of therapy: Including those who needinotropic support(to help the heart pump harder) or vasodilators.

Type of additional care

An intensive care unit allows health care providers, such as doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, therapists and specialists, to provide a level of care that they may not be able to provide in other settings:

  • Careful and frequent monitoring of vital signs:While in the ICU, patients are monitored more often than they might be in a regular hospital unit. Vital signs, such as heart rate,blood pressure, and breathing rate, as well as parameters such as oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, can be continuously monitored by electronic devices that are set to monitor at all times. In addition to continuous monitoring, nurses can also manually check vital signs more often in an intensive care unit than they would in a regular hospital ward.
  • The central location shows vital sign values:While your loved one has continuous monitoring of vital signs, blood pressure and pulse readings will be visible on bedside digital devices. In addition, many intensive care units are also equipped with centrally located displays that show the patients' vital functions from the outside. This allows nurses to read multiple patients' vital signs even when they are not in the patients' rooms and immediately become aware of important changes.
  • Close adjustment of fluids, electrolytes and medications:In addition to careful medical monitoring, the ICU is an environment where patients can fine-tune important therapies, such as intravenous fluids andelectrolytessuch as sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium. A number of powerful drugs can produce unpredictable effects that require an immediate response.Such drugs are preferably administered in intensive care units.
  • It may have some procedures:Certain procedures that can be performed at the patient's bedside are not suitable for a normal hospital ward. For example, people who have aventriculoperitonealni (VP) shuntsome procedures that require a sterile environment to prevent infection may be necessary, but do not necessarily need to be done in the operating room. These types of procedures can be performed efficiently in the intensive care unit while avoiding moving and disturbing the patient.
  • Semi-open premises:Rooms in the intensive care unit are not normally closed. Although there may be privacy curtains, the patients are more visible and accessible to the nurses and doctors working in the intensive care unit. This allows healthcare professionals to monitor patients more closely and respond more quickly to any sudden problems.
  • Fewer patients per nurse:In general, an intensive care unit has more nurses per patient than a regular hospital ward. This allows each nurse to monitor the many complex and changing medical details of each patient and to perform more complex treatments for patients.
  • Nurses with training and experience in intensive care:Nurses and relatives who work in intensive care often have specialized training and experience in caring for patients in intensive care. sometimes,nurseseven specialize in the care of patients in specialized intensive care units such as the CCU or PICU. In some intensive care units, a senior nurse with special experience in intensive care oversees patient care.
  • They may have doctors specializing in intensive care:Sometimes doctors who are specially trained in the ICU also work in the ICU.However, this is not always the case and depends on each individual hospital and situation. For example, if your loved one had a serious heart condition that required a stay in the CCU, he or she may be cared for by a doctor who specifically cares for patients while they are in the CCU until they are discharged to a general hospital unit, where they must be cared for by another doctor. On the other hand, in some hospitals, the same doctor who takes care of a patient in the intensive care unit continues to take care of the patient and manage the health condition even after the patient is stabilized and transferred to a regular hospital unit. And some hospitals have a system that combines both approaches.

Additional restrictions on visitors

For a number of reasons, visitors are much more limited in the intensive care unit than in regular hospital rooms. Some of these reasons include:

  • Prevention of spreadinfection
  • Keeping quiet for other patients because they have no privacy in the intensive care unit
  • Allow your loved one to rest and recover
  • Less space in the intensive care unit
  • Allow staff to check on patients frequently – Hospital staff can delay medication or monitoring for half an hour or so until visitors go to the regular floor, but they cannot do this in the ICU.

When will your loved one be discharged?

Your loved one will most likely recover enough to be discharged from the ICU. Some hospitals have junior units that provide an intermediate level of care that is less intensive than the ICU and provides closer care than a regular unit. ICU discharge criteria include extubation, stabilization of vital signs, improved alertness, less frequent need for IV fluids, electrolyte and medication adjustments, and general medical stability.

A word from Verywell

If your loved one has been admitted to the intensive care unit, you are probably very stressed because you experience uncertainty and unpredictability.

Not all patients are the same and your loved one is unique. His or her road to recovery may be easier or more complicated than others, and often the unpredictability of the diseases that require intensive treatment makes the entire prognosis somewhat unpredictable.

Despite serious circumstances requiring admission to the intensive care unit, most patients can do soleave the intensive care unitand continue treatment in a regular hospital ward for a short time, and eventually recover from your illness,leaving the hospitalgo home

5 Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to back up the facts in our articles. Read oureditorial processto learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.

  1. National Library of Medicine.Unconscious patient.

  2. Department of Anesthesia and Perioperative Care, University of California, San Francisco.Intensive treatments.

  3. Critical Care Foundation i Australien og New Zealand.Staff in the intensive care unit.

  4. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.The intensive care unit: A visitor's guide.

  5. Bion, Julian and Anna Dennis.ICU Admission and Discharge Criteria', i Andrew Webb et al (red.).Oxford Textbook of Intensive Care, 2 edn, Oxford Textbook, 2016. doi:10.1093/med/9780199600830.003.0020

Further reading

When a relative is in the intensive care unit (2)

AfterHeidi Moawad, MD
Heidi Moawad is a neurologist and expert in brain health and neurological disorders. Dr. Moawad regularly writes and edits health and career content for medical books and publications.

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