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PICU: What is It, Full Form, PICU vs NICU – What’s the Difference


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Intensive Care Units or ICUs are an integrated part of a medical setup required for patients who need round-the-clock monitoring and life-care support. Hospitals have ICUs for people of varying age groups. PICU and NICU are two important ICUs for neonatal and child treatment and care.

  • PICU stands for Paediatric Intensive Care Unit and is an inseparable part of a child care hospital. Infants and children up to 17 years of age can be admitted to and take the support of this system to recover via continuous monitoring, high-end devices and care. 
  • The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit or NICU is another very important unit in a children’s hospital. It is a specialised care unit for newborn babies or premature babies who require persistent monitoring and care during the initial months after birth.

The medical staff and health care providers are specially trained to take care of the child in NICU and PICU. This article gives you information on the treatments done in PICU with a breakdown of the major differences between PICU and NICU. 

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PICU: It’s Importance and Treatment done

PICU is that part of the hospital where your child gets the highest level of care and treatment required in sick or critically ill conditions. It has continuous monitoring systems for heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, ventilators, and more that are used only under close medical vigilance. 

Importance of PICU:

A PICU is for infants and children up to the age of 17. Children who require intensive care include:

  • Children having severe breathing problems like Asthma.
  • Children who have had an accident or are critically injured.
  • Children having serious medical complications of diabetes, infections, tumours, etc.
  • Children may require ICU support after surgery or treatment until their condition stabilises.

Treatments in PICU

The continuous beeping of the monitoring systems, display panels, and alarms in a PICU may be overwhelming and stressful for parents. The treatments performed in a PICU are highly-sensitive but comprehensively support the kid’s recovery from a critical condition or injury.

  • An intravenous line (IV) and medications: Kids in PICU have intravenous lines for fluids, electrolytes, and medicines. Intravenous catheter – a small flexible tube is usually inserted into the veins of the arms, legs, or even scalp with the help of a needle. 

Arterial lines – similar to IV’s, these are placed in the arteries to monitor blood pressure and oxygen levels. 

Medicines like painkillers, antibiotics, sedatives, antihistamines, and those that help relieve pain, heal infections, etc. are administered either through IV lines or orally. 

  • Tests and Investigations: Tests and investigations are a part of regular monitoring in the PICU. Tests such as blood test, urine analysis, stool analysis, imaging scans – X-ray, Computed Tomography (CT) Scan, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanning are performed as and when required in the PICU.  
  • Monitors: Children are attached to monitoring systems when in ICU to check the heart rate, breathing rate, blood oxygen levels, and other parameters.
  • Ventilators: Sometimes, ventilators provide that extra assistance while breathing to children. The ventilators used are connected to an endotracheal tube (a plastic tube placed into the windpipe through the mouth or nose) or a tracheostomy (a plastic tube inserted directly through the skin into the windpipe). 

PICU staff and systems provide the best care ensuring your child will have the best support and assistance while recovering. 

PICU Vs NICU: Know the Difference

Neonatal care in NICU is for the newly born child during its initial months after birth. Newborn or premature babies require an environment similar to the mother’s womb where their condition can get stable or better after birth. Such conditions are innate to the NICU. 

Below are clear-cut differences between PICU and NICU. 

PICU stands for Paediatric Intensive Care Unit NICU stands for Neonatal Intensive Care Unit
Infants and children up to 17 years are treated by paediatricians in PICU In an NICU, newborn infants are treated by specialised doctors or Neonatologists
In a PICU, continual monitoring and tests are performed before the treatment is given. In an NICU, level-wise treatment is provided depending on the gestational period or baby’s weight at birth.
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Levels of treatment in NICU differ from PICU:

  • Level 1 care: Neonates weighing more than 1.8 kgs at birth or having gestational maturity of 34 weeks or more are cared for under level 1 of NICU treatment.
  • Level 2 care: Neonates having a birth weight between 1.2 to 1.8 kgs or a gestational maturity of 30-34 weeks or more get level 2 NICU treatment.
  • Level 3 care: Neonates weighing less than 1.8 kgs at birth or having a gestational maturity of less than 30 weeks get level 3 NICU treatment.

Continual monitoring systems, ideal environment, and top-notch care are given to premature babies and new born infants in an NICU. NICU staff and health providers are specifically trained to handle very young infants and manage delicate situations. 

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NICU and PICU are two terms often used interchangeably. However, this article explains clearly the difference between the two of a child’s intrinsic care units – NICU for neonates and PICU for paediatric age groups. Talk to your doctor to better understand the intensive care units in a hospital.    


Overview | PICU

Somapika Dutta (B.Sc Physiology, Honours)
Somapikar holds Bachelors Degree in Physiology from University of Culcutta. She has 6+ years of experience writing in different niches, including health, tech and lifestyle. An animal enthusiast and a raging foodie, experiencing life - one day at a time.


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