What is Intensive Care?

Intensive care or critical care refers to the care provided to patients whilst they are in hospital with severe illnesses or injuries that may become life threatening. Critical care usually takes place in an intensive care unit or trauma center. Intensive care was first introduced in 1952 in Copenhagen to deal with an epidemic of polio and the respiratory paralysis it causes.

Prioritising the polio patients over patients in the general ward and providing them with respiratory support through the use of ventilators reduced the risk of death by around 90%. This was the birth of the intensive care unit or ICU.

Indications for intensive care are wide ranging and examples include:

  • Major accidents that have caused massive blood loss or injury to the brain or other vital organs
  • Complications of long-term surgery such as blood loss and problems with anesthesia
  • Life threatening infections such as sepsis or infection that has spread to the blood stream and is affecting major vital organs
  • Severe allergic reactions or anaphylactic shock
  • Severe breathing problems such as exacerbation of asthma or other lung conditions and respiratory paralysis
  • Heart conditions such as heart failure, heart attacks or abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias)
  • Severe drug overdoses or poisoning
  • Organ failure


The intensive care unit is equipped with:

  • Life saving drugs
  • Cardiac monitors for tracking the heart's rate and rhythm
  • Pulse oximeter for monitoring blood oxygen levels
  • Monitors to assess arterial blood gases
  • Intravenous (IV) tubes
  • Catheters and urine bags to drain and measure urine
  • Breathing machines or ventilators
  • Feeding tubes to nourish the unconscious patient


The intensive care unit is manned by a team of specialists that include:

  • Cardiologists, cardiac interventionists
  • Anesthetists
  • Pulmonologists or lung specialists
  • Nephrologists or specialists in the kidney
  • Gastroenterologists or specialists in the gastrointestinal system
  • Orthopedicians and surgeons
  • Specialists in internal medicine
  • Specially trained critical care nurses
  • Pharmacists, microbiologists, pathologists, biochemists and laboratory technicians

Further Reading

Last Updated: Jun 28, 2019

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.


Please use one of the following formats to cite this article in your essay, paper or report:

  • APA

    Mandal, Ananya. (2019, June 28). What is Intensive Care?. News-Medical. Retrieved on September 22, 2019 from https://www.news-medical.net/health/What-is-Intensive-Care.aspx.

  • MLA

    Mandal, Ananya. "What is Intensive Care?". News-Medical. 22 September 2019. <https://www.news-medical.net/health/What-is-Intensive-Care.aspx>.

  • Chicago

    Mandal, Ananya. "What is Intensive Care?". News-Medical. https://www.news-medical.net/health/What-is-Intensive-Care.aspx. (accessed September 22, 2019).

  • Harvard

    Mandal, Ananya. 2019. What is Intensive Care?. News-Medical, viewed 22 September 2019, https://www.news-medical.net/health/What-is-Intensive-Care.aspx.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News-Medical.Net.
Post a new comment
You might also like... ×
Early palliative care linked to better survival in patients with advanced lung cancer