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An intensive care unit ICU , also known as an intensive therapy unit or intensive treatment unit ITU or critical care unit CCU , is a special department of a hospital or health care facility that provides intensive treatment medicine. Intensive care units cater to patients with severe or life-threatening illnesses and injuries, which require constant care, close supervision from life support equipment and medication in order to ensure normal bodily functions.
They are staffed by highly trained physicians , nurses and respiratory therapists who specialize in caring for critically ill patients. ICUs are also distinguished from general hospital wards by a higher staff-to-patient ratio and to access to advanced medical resources and equipment that is not routinely available elsewhere.
Common conditions that are treated within ICUs include acute or adult respiratory distress syndrome, hypertension, metastases and other life-threatening conditions. Patients may be referred directly from an emergency department or from a ward if they rapidly deteriorate, or immediately after surgery if the surgery is very invasive and the patient is at high risk of complications.
In , Florence Nightingale left for the Crimean War , where triage was used to separate seriously wounded soldiers from the non-life-threatening conditions. Until recently, [ when? Although this was not the case, her experiences during the war formed the foundation for her later discovery of the importance of sanitary conditions in hospitals, a critical component of intensive care.
In , anesthesiologist Peter Safar established the concept of "Advanced life support", keeping patients sedated and ventilated in an intensive care environment. Safar is considered to be the first practitioner of intensive care medicine as a speciality.