Understanding medical terms used in intensive care environments

The following explanations may help you better understand some of the treatments and care being provided to your loved one during their stay in the intensive care unit (ICU) at Fiona Stanley Hospital or Rockingham General Hospital (external site).


Arterial line
A cannula (small, flexible tube) inserted into an artery that allows frequent blood sampling and continuous blood pressure monitoring.

Arterial blood gases (ABGs)
A blood sample from an artery that gives information including the concentration of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood.

Bronchoscopy
A flexible scope with a light source and camera that is inserted through a breathing tube to look at the airways, remove secretions such as mucus or remove tissue for analysis (biopsy).

Cannula
A small, flexible tube inserted into a vein or body cavity, such as the nose, to give medicine, drain fluid or provide oxygen.

Culture
Testing wound swabs or body fluids such as blood, saliva, mucus and urine for infection.

Central line
A long cannula (small, flexible tube) inserted into a large vein in the neck, upper chest or groin to allow the continuous delivery of fluid and medications.

Central venous pressure (CVP)
A pressure reading that reflects the amount of fluid in blood vessels.

Electrocardiograph (ECG)
A recording of the electrical activity of the heart.

Endotracheal tube (ETT)
A tube inserted through the mouth or nose into the windpipe to deliver air and oxygen to the lungs and removes secretions such as mucus.

External pacemaker
An electronic device that deliver electrical impulses to the heart to restore or maintain a normal heartbeat.

Haemofiltration
Filtering blood to remove toxic substances when the kidneys fail to work normally.

Inotropes
Medications that support the heart and blood pressure and are usually administered through a central line into a vein.

Intercostal catheter (ICC, or chest drain)
A tube inserted into the chest to drain fluid or air from around the lung.

Monitor
Equipment that continuously displays information such as heart rate, blood pressure, central venous pressure, oxygen levels, and temperature.

Nasogastric tube
A tube inserted through the nose or mouth, down the food pipe to the stomach to drain the stomach contents or deliver liquid nutrition.

Patient controlled analgesia (PCA)
An intravenous form of pain relief that patients administer themselves as needed. The PCA pump is programmed according to a patient’s individual need with a locking system for patient safety.

Pneumonia
An infection of the lungs for which treatment may include antibiotics or in severe cases breathing support on a ventilator.

Sepsis
A systemic reaction to a serious infection that can make a patient very unwell through feeling drowsy with a high heart rate, fast breathing and high temperature. Sepsis causes life threatening body and toxic responses that can lead to tissue damage, organ failure and even death.

Suctioning
When a nurse places a long thin tube down the breathing tube (ETT or tracheostomy) to clear away mucus or when a patient is unable to cough adequately.

Tracheostomy
Where a tube is inserted into the patient’s windpipe via a hole in their throat. A tracheostomy is sometimes performed if a patient requires breathing support for longer than 7–10 days, has a large amount of mucus and other secretions, or a severely altered conscious state (significantly different from their normal waking state).

Urinary catheter
A thin catheter inserted into a patient’s bladder to accurately measure urine output

Ventilator
A machine that helps a patient breathe by assisting their lungs to inhale and exhale air.


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Contact the ICU at Fiona Stanley Hospital or Rockingham General Hospital.