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What Is Cardiac Intensive Care?

A patient might need support from special equipment if the heart and lungs are damaged.
Cardiac intensive care is reserved for patients recovering from heart surgery, heart attacks or other medical issues that put the heart at risk.
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  • Written By: C. Webb
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 25 September 2014
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Cardiac intensive care is an area of the hospital reserved for treating patients with life-threatening cardiac medical conditions. This can include recovery from heart surgery, heart attack recovery, or different medical issues that put the heart at risk. The focus of a cardiac intensive care unit is on monitoring the heart rhythm, blood pressure, and overall health as it pertains to the heart. Cardiac intensive care provides specifically trained medical personnel who are nearby in the event of a cardiac emergency.

Cardiac intensive care got its start in the 1960s. It was initially developed to diagnose and treat issues with heart rhythm. Arrhythmias, ventricular tachycardias, and other heart rhythm problems were monitored while medications were introduced. The concept of cardiac intensive care expanded as diagnostic procedures advanced. As medical treatment improved, patients who suffered from heart attacks had a higher survival rate and were placed in cardiac intensive care units for treatment.

Equipment in a cardiac care unit includes tools used in defibrillation and cardioversion of the heart. In addition, patients are constantly monitored for changes in electrical heart activity and blood pressure. Changes in any monitored heart function will send an alert to the nearby medical staff for appropriate investigation.

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Some regions, including the US, have cardiac intensive care units as a sub-unit to the general intensive care unit. Gathering all critical cardiac patients into a cardiac care unit allows specifically trained staff members to monitor and treat them. In addition, machinery and monitors can be easily shared and transferred from room to room as needed.

Rules in the cardiac care unit are region specific. In some areas, visitation is limited to immediate family for about 30 minutes a day. Other areas may have more liberal visitation schedules. When patients become well enough not to need cardiac intensive care, they are discharged to a regular hospital room for further treatment, or they are sent home, depending on their medical needs. In some cases, they are discharged from cardiac care to a step-down unit, which provides a level of care between a regular room and intensive care.

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