Diagnosis and treatment

Critically ill patients can often have several different problems, injuries or illnesses.

The ICU team use a wide range of diagnostic, monitoring and treatment techniques to help treat the patient in the best possible way.

Doctors and nurses will be monitoring

  • temperature
  • blood pressure
  • heart rate
  • respiratory rate
  • oxygen in the blood
  • levels such as sodium and potassium
  • urine output
  • level of consciousness.

The doctors and nurses can, and do, monitor more but their main priority is to support the organs that may be failing and to try to get them functioning properly again.

There will be lots of tubes, machines and wires around the patients. The unit staff can explain what these all do. Close monitoring of the patient may include using machines such as

  • cardiovascular support, to measure the heart's output
  • respiratory ventilator, to help the patient breathe
  • kidney machine, to provide the kidney function when the organs aren't working properly.

Treatment of the patient may include

  • medication to support the heart's function
  • manipulation of the lungs to improving breathing
  • giving antibiotics and additional fluid
  • administration of drugs to improve their general condition
  • providing adequate nutrition, often through a feeding tube
  • infection control, which may include moving the patient to a secure side room
  • pain control, including giving sedatives or painkillers.

ICU also works closely with other specialties in the hospital to provide everyday care to the patients, ensuring comfort, privacy and dignity.

This includes

  • intensive nursing care (normally one-to-one) to ensure hygiene standards are maintained, such as washing and mouth care
  • physiotherapy to help increase the patient's mobility, breathing capability or muscle development
  • dietitians who work to ensure each patient is properly nourished
  • attending to the psychological aspect of a patient's hospital journey, by linking them with the hospital chaplaincy team or putting them in touch with support groups
  • pharmacy staff who attend regular ward rounds to ensure that medication is safe and appropriate for each patient
  • microbiology staff who deal with infection control.