ICU - Glossary

Glossary (what do the words we use mean)

When you or your relative are in the ICU you will inevitably hear words or abbreviations that are unfamiliar to you. This is a short list of commonly used terms.

Blood gas machine
A machine which measures the blood gases.

Blood gases
A blood test to check the level of oxygen, carbon dioxide and acidity which may be done several times a day.

Carbon dioxide
This is the waste gas eliminated by the lungs.

Used to empty a patient's bladder.

Intensive Care Units can be referred to by various names which mean the same thing, for example Critical Care Unit (CCU), Intensive Care Unit (ICU) or Intensive Therapy Unit (ITU). The unit cares for patients with acute illness or injury that require specialised procedures and treatments by specialised staff.

Central line
A line is inserted into the patient in order for liquids/drugs to be passed into their veins.

​This is a kidney dialysis machine that is used to remove toxins from the blood when a patient has kidney failure. 

This is a very common problem often seen in ICU when he sedation patients are receiving are reduced or stopped. 

This is a recording of the electrical activity of the heart, and in ICU it is displayed on the monitor above the patients' bed space. 

Endotracheal tube
This tube is inserted through either the patient's nose or throat into the windpipe and is sometimes referred to as an ET tube.

Blood oxygen level.

Pulse oximeter
A probe that wraps around a hand or foot, connected to a machine, which measures how much oxygen the blood is carrying.

This refers to the patients' blood oxygen level. The normal blood oxygen saturation is 97-100% however in the ICU patients' often have levels much lower than this. 

Medications we use to keep patients comfortable during their time in ICU. The level of sedation we give a patient will vary on a daily basis depending on how they are coping and how sick they are. The medications we use are usually a combination of an anaesthetic drug and a pain killer.

Speaking valve
This allows a patient with a tracheostomy to use their voice and is only used as the patient's condition improves.

Mechanical removal of mucous from the nose, throat or endotracheal tube with a plastic tube.

A tracheostomy (or 'trachy') is a tube 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.

Also known as a breathing machine, this piece of equipment 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.

The process of taking a patient off the ventilator once they are able to breathe on their own.