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Learning About ICU Equipment

ICU equipment including ventilator, heart monitor, and medicine pump with IV, attached to patient

What equipment is in the ICU?

An intensive care unit, or ICU, is full of special equipment to keep patients safe and as comfortable as possible. The ICU staff will answer your questions and tell you how these tools are helping your loved one.

Some machines will beep or display information all the time. Others have alarms on them for emergencies. Ask a member of the ICU staff if you are concerned about the information or alerts on any of the machines.

Read more about some of the equipment you may see in the ICU.

Breathing equipment

A ventilator is a machine that breathes for a person while the lungs are healing. It sends oxygen or air into the lungs through a thin tube and allows carbon dioxide to escape. The tube is placed in the windpipe through the nose or mouth.

A continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine may be used when a ventilator isn't needed. It gently pushes oxygen or air into the lungs through a mask over the nose or mouth. People can breathe on their own with this extra help.

A nasal cannula is a device with two prongs. The prongs are placed in the nostrils when a person just needs more oxygen. The oxygen goes through the tubes and into the nostrils.

Oxygen may also be given through a mask. Oxygen flows through a tube and into a mask that is placed over the nose and mouth.

A tracheostomy or "trach" (say "trayk") tube is a breathing tube that goes directly into the windpipe. It is used when a person needs to be on a ventilator for a long time. It also helps remove mucus and fluid from the lungs. A surgeon will insert the trach tube.

Medicine, fluid, and nutrition

An intravenous (I.V.) site gives access to a vein. It may be placed in the back of the hand, foot, arm, leg, or scalp. One end of a tube is attached to the site. The other end may be attached to a medicine pump. It can also be used to take samples of blood for testing.

A central vascular access device (CVAD), or central line, is a long, thin tube that can be placed in the neck, chest, or arm. It is threaded through a vein until it reaches a larger vein near the heart. It can stay in place longer than an I.V. It can deliver fluids or medicines quickly if needed. It can also deliver nutrition.

Medicine pumps deliver exactly the right amount of medicine at the right time. The medicine flows through an I.V. site or central line.

Gastrostomy (G-tube) or nasogastric (NG-tube) feeding tubes deliver nutrients to a person who is unable to eat. These tubes are put directly into the stomach or through the nose into the stomach. They can also remove excess fluids from the stomach and deliver medicine.

Other equipment

An inflatable cuff on the arm or leg takes blood pressure readings. It sends the data to a blood pressure monitor.

Temperature probes keep track of the person's temperature.

A heart monitor has a sensor that attaches to the chest to track the heart rate.

A pulse oximeter clips to the end of the finger. It measures how much oxygen is in the blood.

A Foley, or indwelling, catheter drains urine when a person can't go to the toilet on their own.

Where can you learn more?

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