• Terms You May Hear

    The staff of the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) at Cincinnati Children’s provides definitions to terms that are commonly used: 

  • Monitors are electrical machines used for measuring and recording body functions such as heart rate, breathing and blood pressure. All children in the PICU are monitored continuously. You will see wires that lead from your child’s chest to the monitor.


    We use the word “lines” for any special tubing inserted in the arteries or veins (blood vessels). They can be used to give important fluids or medicines or to remove blood for testing. You may hear nurses and doctors refer to “A-lines” and “C-lines.” The “A” stands for artery, and the “C” stands for central. Most children in the ICU will have one or both of these lines.

    IV (Intravenous)
    An IV is a tube that goes in a vein to give fluids, for example, antibiotics.

    A tube put in a vein to help keep it open.

    Nasal Cannula
    A soft plastic tube with two prongs that are placed in the nostrils to deliver oxygen

    NG and NJ Tubes
    An “NG” tube is placed through the nose into the stomach. An “NJ” tube goes to the small intestine. Both types of tubes are used for feeding, giving medicine or keeping the stomach empty.

    Foley Catheter
    A “Foley catheter” is a tube inserted into the bladder for collecting and measuring urine.

    ET Tube
    An “ET tube” is an artificial airway that may be placed in your child’s mouth or nose to help him breathe better. Because this tube goes down the windpipe and through the voice box, your child will not be able to talk while the ET tube is in.

    Your child may have one or all of these lines, catheters and tubes. Please help us prevent your child from pulling on them. Gentle restraints may be needed for this purpose.

    Suctioning is a procedure that happens quite frequently when children have an ET tube. Your child cannot clear her own airway easily while the tube is in place, so we clear it by using a thin plastic catheter. This procedure is not comfortable for your child, but it is very important and lasts only a few minutes. The nurses may give medicine to help your child be calm and comfortable while being suctioned. Ask your child’s nurse or respiratory therapist to explain the type of breathing assistance your child is getting.

    The doctors probably will order many tests to determine what is wrong and how to help your child. We may collect blood samples for lab tests or take X-rays. For some tests, such as CT and MRI scans, your child will be taken out of the unit. CT and MRI scans are like X-rays but give clearer, more defined pictures. They are painless, but the child may have to remain still for a long time. We may give medicine to help your child stay calm for these tests.

    CBC (Complete Blood Count) Measurement of the different cells in blood such as:

    • Platelets – Help with blood clotting
    • RBC (Red Blood Cell) – Cells that carry oxygen and carbon dioxide
    • HGB (Hemoglobin) – Protein in red blood cells (RBC’s) that carries oxygen
    • WBC (White Blood Cell) – Cells that fight infections
    • ANC (Absolute Neutrophil Count) – Measures the number of white blood cells (WBC’s) that respond first to an infection

    O2 Sats (oxygen saturation)
    The measurement of the amount of oxygen carried in your body.

    Device placed beneath the skin of the chest to ease access to a vein.

    Evaluating patients based on their need for immediate medical treatment.

    Machine used to help a patient breathe.

    Measurement of temperature, heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure.