Loving father looking at ill son in bed at hospital ward
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What PICU Means & What To Expect From A PICU Stay

Where critically ill kids get exceptional care.

As much as you might want to wrap your child up in bubble wrap and keep them safe and sound at all times, sometimes kids do get seriously ill or injured. When they’re very sick or need immediate medical attention, they might end up in a hospital’s Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU). It might be the last place you’ll ever want to see them in, but if your child does needs critical care, there is really no better place for them to be. You’ll be ever-so-grateful for what the PICU offers its small patients — and their parents, too. Here’s everything to know about what exactly the term PICU means, and what to expect if your kid has to spend time there.

What is the PICU?

Many hospitals have both a NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) and a PICU (Pediatric Intensive Care Unit). But what exactly is the PICU? “The PICU is an area in a hospital that takes care of very sick children who require close and frequent monitoring,” Dr. Jenna Wheeler, a board-certified pediatric critical care physician at the Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children explains to Romper. “The PICU provides the highest level of care available to children within the hospital.”

So when would your child go to the NICU, and when would they be admitted to the PICU? It all comes down to how old your little one is, according to Dr. Krupa Playforth, a pediatrician. “The PICU is where children who require intensive care are admitted,” she says. “The NICU is just for newborns; any child older than this will be admitted to the PICU instead.”

When do children go to the PICU?

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Babies or children can go to the PICU for many different reasons, but all come down to the fact that they need extra care and monitoring that a typical pediatric patient wouldn’t require. “The PICU takes care of babies and children after some surgeries, after accidents such as motor vehicle accidents, for severe asthma or infection, or any time they become sick enough that they need to be monitored very closely by a specialized team and cannot be cared for on a general pediatric floor,” explains Wheeler.

Anytime an infant or a child is critically ill, requiring a higher level of (or more specialized) care, they will be admitted to a PICU,” adds Playforth. “The health care workers in the PICU have additional training, and the ratio of staff to patients is lower, allowing for closer monitoring and more support for patients who need it.” The PICU also cares for pediatric patients who, according to Playforth, have significant underlying health conditions that require PICU-level care.

How long do kids typically stay in the PICU?

If your child is admitted to the PICU, their medical team will probably be in constant communication with you, giving you updates on your child’s condition and next steps to give them the care that they need. But when will they get to go home? It really varies, say Dr. Cherilyn Cecchini, a board-certified pediatrician. “How long kids stay in the PICU can vary depending on their health,” she explains. “Some may stay for a short time (like a day or two) whereas others may stay for weeks or months before they go home.”

“The amount of time that kids stay in the PICU depends a lot of the reason that they were admitted,” adds Wheeler. “Sometimes kids only need to be monitored closely overnight and other times kids may be with us a very long time, such as weeks to months. Usually though, the average length of stay is 4-5 days, with a lot of children being discharged to either a lower level of care of to home sooner.”

Seeing your child sick is something that no parent ever wants to witness. But if your kid needs critical care, your hospital’s PICU is prepared to get them healthy again — and most importantly — back home again.


Dr. Jenna Wheeler, M.D., a board-certified pediatric critical care physician at the Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children

Dr. Cherilyn Cecchini, M.D., a board-certified pediatrician

Dr. Krupa Playforth, M.D., a pediatrician