Hiya, Aunty! Has anyone ever asked yet what the differences between each ICU type is because I still get confused by them
Hey nonny! No, this is the first time this question is coming up, which means that I get to go off about one of my favorite topics!
An ICU (Intensive Care Unit) is a special unit in a hospital for a patient who is “critically ill”. There are a lot of reasons people can be admitted to an ICU. (In the UK I believe these units are called ITUs, Intensive Therapy Units.)
ICUs are areas where extremely sick patients get closely observed. Where an ER or medical-floor nurse might have 6 or more patients to attend, an ICU nurse has just one or maybe 2. They’ll get more frequent visits from doctors, have their intakes and outputs (”Is and Os”) monitored, medications adjusted, very frequently. If they’re on a ventilator or respiratory support, they’ll be in the ICU. Serious chemical and salt imbalances or extremes of blood sugar, blood pressure, and organ function are seen in the ICUs.
There are loads of different types. Some small hospitals may have only one “catchall” ICU, for the “really-sick” patients. Some may have dozens; I work for a hospital system with a great many ICUs. Generally, patients are sorted based on what service they primarily need.
The Medical ICU (MICU) is where generically medically-sick patients go. Issues like sepsis are handled here, as might asthma patients, patients with acute abdomen, etc.
Though this gets tricky: some hospitals also have a Respiratory Care Unit (RCU).
Many post-operative surgical patients are discharged to a Surgical ICU (SICU) from the OR. SICU can also hold patients pre-op for observation and testing.
One type of SICU is a Cardiothoracic ICU (CTICU). This is for patients who have had their chests opened during surgery for whatever reason, as the possibility of re-bleeds requiring immediate surgery is high and the consequences can be rapidly fatal.
Critically ill heart patients – including those who’ve recovered from cardiac arrest or suffered heart attacks with significant damage – are admitted to a Cardiac Care Unit (CCU).
Neuro ICU (NICU) and Neonatal ICU (NICU) (which is separate from a Pediatric ICU (PICU)) share the same abbreviation but drastically different populations; Neuro ICUs treat patients suffering from strokes or hemorrhages in the brain, while Neonatal ICUs treat critically ill newborns. Some hospitals will call their Neuro ICU a Neuroscience ICU (NSICU) for clarity, but this is different when a hospital has a neuro ICU and a Neurosurgical ICU (NSICU).
There are also Burn ICUs, Trauma ICUs, Post-Anesthesia Care Units (PACUs) and more. (PACUs may or may not count as ICUs, actually). Then there are “step-down” units, where people are “de-medicalized”, weaned from their biggest interventions before being sent to a more routine kind of a floor.
Ultimately what each hospital chooses to call each ICU is up to them. One hospital I know calls their Trauma ICU their “Emergency Ward”. Our “mothership” hospital calls their neuro ICU their Neuroscience ICU.
Oh, and children’s hospitals may have…. honestly, at least a few of these ICUs, dedicated just for kids.
I hope that helps clear things up a little bit. Let me know if you still have questions, I’ll try to help answer them as best I can!