For patients and carers

This page is for clinicians to share with patients in the intensive care unit (ICU) and their carers and loved ones. The information will help patients and carers to understand what happens in ICU and what to expect while your loved one is there.

What is an ICU?

Intensive care units are special areas of the hospital where the sickest of people are cared for.

Usually, someone is admitted to the ICU because they need:

  • to be on a breathing machine (a ventilator)
  • help with their blood pressure or heart rate
  • to be on a heart lung bypass machine (ECMO), or
  • dialysis for their kidneys.

Sometimes people need to have lots of machines and medications to help them get better.

Understanding the intensive care unit

About the paediatric intensive care unit

Why are people admitted to the ICU?

A person is likely to be admitted to the ICU if they are in a critical condition and need constant observation and specialised care. This can happen:

  • after major surgery
  • following an accident (e.g. car accident, severe burn)
  • during a chronic or terminal illness (e.g. heart or kidney failure, stroke, heart attack)
  • during a serious infection (e.g. pneumonia, sepsis).

Getting more information

We encourage you to reach out to the doctors and nurses looking after your loved one.

The links below will take you to more specific information about conditions, equipment, investigations, treatments and visiting.

Patient conditions

Common conditions and critical illnesses experienced by people admitted to an ICU.


Equipment in the intensive care unit

Explanations of some of the most commonly used equipment in the intensive care unit.


Tests, monitoring and treatment

Types of medical investigations, monitoring and treatments used in an intensive care unit.


Community language fact sheets

Resources for patients and carers in the intensive care unit translated into in a number of community languages.


Virtual visiting in intensive care

How mobile technology keeps patients, carers and staff connected in intensive care units.


What to expect while your loved one is in intensive care

This printable brochure provides more information about what to expect while your loved one is in intensive care.

Download brochure (PDF 211.6 KB)

You can also visit healthdirect for more information about intensive care.

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