The intensity of the care provided in ICU requires many monitoring devices. Patients in the ICU generally have many wires attached to them for various types of monitoring.

Monitors have alarms that notify members of the care team when a measurement is detected that is out of acceptable range. The constant alarming of these monitors can be frightening to patients and their families. It is important to remember that this highly sophisticated equipment is designed to provide the best possible care.

Some of the monitoring equipment seen in the ICU includes the following:

Cardiac or heart monitors: Cardiac monitors are used to monitor the electrical activity of the heart. The monitor looks like a computer screen with lines, or tracings, moving across the screen. The monitor has electrodes that are attached to the patient’s chest with sticky pads.
Pulse oximeter: A pulse oximeter allows the critical care team to monitor the saturation of oxygen in the blood. It looks like a clothespin and is attached to a patient’s finger, or it may be smaller and clipped onto the earlobe.
Swan-Ganz catheter: A Swan-Ganz, or pulmonary artery catheter, is used to measure the amount of fluid filling the heart as well as to determine how the heart is functioning. It is inserted through the large vessels of the neck or upper chest and threaded into the heart.
Arterial lines (a-lines): Arterial lines are used for continuous monitoring of blood pressure. Catheters are inserted into an artery, usually in the wrist or, less often, in the bend of the elbow (should not be the brachial artery) or groin. Arterial lines produce a tracing on a monitor that is similar to that of a heart monitor but with a different wave form. Arterial lines can also be used for drawing blood thus eliminating the need for repeated venipuntures (a surgical puncture of a vein for withdrawing blood).

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