What Types of Conditions Require an ICU?

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  • Written By: M.C. Huguelet
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 31 March 2020
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An intensive care unit (ICU) is an area of a hospital wdedicated to those patients who require close supervision and aggressive medical treatment due to a life-threatening injury or illness. Many different conditions may require admission to an ICU, including a wide range of illnesses or injuries involving the nervous system, respiratory system, circulatory system, immune system, and digestive system. As treatment in these units is costly and bed space in them tends to be limited, patients with conditions that are not life-threatening as well as those who are not likely to recover are generally not admitted for intensive care.

Usually, treatment in an ICU is reserved for those who have a life-threatening medical condition in which their body has lost the ability to perform one or more of its vital functions. These units are generally equipped with a large range of sophisticated equipment, such as ventilators, which can be used to perform a bodily function until a patient regains the ability to carry out that function himself. Additionally, ICUs are staffed with physicians, nurses, and other medical professionals who devote a large amount of attention to patients in an effort to prevent their conditions from worsening.


Apart from being linked by their life-threatening seriousness, the exact conditions which require treatment in an ICU can vary widely. Some patients may be admitted following a major stroke or heart attack, while others may be placed in one of these units after entering a coma. Many patients are admitted to an ICU because they have gravely damaged one or more organs in a fall, a car accident, a fire, or through some other kind of physical trauma. Some patients are moved to these units during recovery from a major surgery, while others are relocated here from another hospital ward because they have developed a serious infection.

Bed space in a hospital’s ICU is usually fairly limited, largely because treatment in these units is quite costly, and because each patient can require 50 or even 100 percent of an individual staff member’s attention. Consequently, hospitals are generally required to prioritize in order to determine which patients should be given intensive care. As such, in most cases a patient with a condition that is serious but not life-threatening will not be admitted to an ICU. Further, those who are very unlikely to recover from their condition, such as those who have entered a permanently vegetative state, usually are not considered good candidates for intensive care either.



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