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Critical care, or intensive care medicine, is the delivery of medical care to patients whose illness or injury is so seriously life threatening that they would likely die without intervention. It usually takes place in ICUs or trauma centers. It is referred to as critical care in North America, while it is called intensive care or intensive therapy in the rest of the world. Specialists in this field are sometimes referred to as intensivists.
Critical care may encompass a broad variety of medical specialties in the efforts to save a patient's life. Critical care specialists must have a good knowledge of anesthesiology, surgery, internal medicine, pediatrics, and other specialties. Besides their medical knowledge, intensivists must know a great deal about end-of-life issues, including ethics, advanced directives, and family counseling and bereavement.
Critical care is a relatively modern specialty, which developed along with ICUs beginning in the 1950's. It looks different from regular medicine, and it can be recognized by the presence of more nurses, more monitoring, more invasive monitors and procedures, and the presence of life-sustaining therapies such as mechanical ventilators and vasopressors.
Specialists in critical care frequently have to make urgent and complex decisions. They use their knowledge and skill to provide intensive care to the most fragile patients and do their best to save lives.