What is Critical Care Medicine?

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  • Written By: Lucinda Reynolds
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 14 October 2018
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Critical care medicine is a branch of medicine that deals with the management of life-threatening illnesses or injuries. This type of medicine is often called intensive care medicine. Patients who need intensive care may require various types of organ support systems just to keep them alive.

When a patient is in the intensive care unit (ICU), he will probably be attached to many different machines. He will be attended to by specially trained doctors and nurses. The patient will receive around-the-clock monitoring to ensure there is no decline in his condition. If there is a change in condition the nurse and doctors will be able to see it and intervene immediately.

A monitor will be used on most critical care medicine patients. This monitor will measure important bodily functions such as heart rate and breathing. When any of these functions falls out of normal range, the monitor will beep to alert the staff of a change in the patient's condition.


In addition to a monitor, the patient in an ICU can have many types of tubes coming out of his body. He may have intravenous tubes that are inserted into his veins. These are used to give medications and fluids that will help the patient get well. A nasogastric tube may be inserted into a nostril and threaded down into the stomach. This is used to prevent vomiting and to relieve gases that may build up in the stomach. A urinary catheter may be inserted to drain the bladder.

On occasion, critical care medicine must manage patients who are on life support. Mechanical ventilators are machines that are used when a patient is unable to breath on his own. A tube is inserted into the mouth and passed into the lungs. This tube is then connected to the ventilator. The machine will breathe for the patient by delivering bursts of oxygen into the lungs.

There are a few common disorders that are treated by critical care medicine. Acute respiratory distress syndrome is a disorder in which the lungs will suddenly fail. This can be caused by illnesses or infections. When this happens, the patient must be placed on mechanical ventilation to survive.

Another disorder that is commonly treated under critical care medicine is trauma. There are thousands of patients each year who are involved in motor vehicle crashes or other types of incidents that cause severe injuries. In these cases, the patient may require extensive surgery and life support for a while to allow these injuries to heal.

Doctors and nurses who work in critical care medicine must be highly trained and resilient. They must be able to think fast on their feet. These professionals must also be able to deal with the fact that sometimes their efforts are unsuccessful. Because the conditions they are treating are life-threatening, the outcome is not always good.



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