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NICU Terms Definitions and Meanings

NICU Terms Glossary

A - B - C - D - E - F - G - H - I - J - K - L - M - N - O - P - Q - R - S - T - U - V - W - X - Y - Z

A

acidosis

An imbalance of the acids and bases in the body in the case of acidosis there is more acid than base.

adjusted age

An 'adjusted or corrected age' for a premature baby is the amount of time since the baby was supposed to be born (the due date). This is different from the baby's 'chronological age' -- the amount of time since your baby was actually born). For example: If baby was born 10 months ago, but was 2 months premature, her 'adjusted or corrected age' would be 8 months. This is important information to keep in mind when you are watching your baby for developmental milestones during the first year of life.

alveoli

The tiny sacs in the lungs where needed oxygen from the air moves into the blood stream and the carbon dioxide (waste) from the blood moves out into the lungs (to be exhaled).

antibiotics

A group of drugs used to treat infections caused by bacteria.

apnea

Breathing that stops for longer than 15-20 seconds. Apnea occurs in premature babies because the breathing center in the brain is still immature or if the airway is obstructed. In some cases, medications can be used to reduce the frequency of apnea until your baby's brain matures. The monitoring equipment used in the NICU can detect apneic spells and in most cases your baby will start to breathe again on his / her own, especially if stimulated (e.g. a firm rub on the back).

arterial blood gas

A sample of blood taken from an artery to measure the amount of things like oxygen, carbon dioxide, acid and base and to make sure they are in balance.

arterial catheter

A thin plastic tube that is inserted into an artery. An arterial catheter is used to collect blood for blood tests and to measure the baby’s blood pressure.

artery

Blood vessels that carry blood away from the heart (except for the pulmonary artery which carries blood from the lungs to the heart). The blood that has just come from the heart is rich in oxygen. The cells of the body require a constant supply of oxygen.

aspiration

Can mean two things: 1) removal of fluid or tissue from the body by sucking it out OR 2) inhaling fluid or other material (such as milk or vomit) into the lungs.

B

bacteria

Single-celled micro-organisms that can cause infection.

bagging

The use of a device called a ‘bagging unit’ to blow oxygen into a baby’s lungs when he/she is unable to breathe alone is called 'bagging'. This is often done for short periods of time when your baby is not attached to a respirator (ventilator).

bilirubin

A substance that is normally produced when red blood cells break down. Bilirubin is usually cleared from the blood by the liver, but in premature, and some full-term, babies the liver is immature and not able to clear the bilirubin effectively. A build up of bilirubin in the blood causes the skin to turn a yellow color (jaundice). If the build up of bilirubin is severe and not treated promptly, it can result in a form of brain damage (kernicterus). See: 'Newborn Jaundice'

blood pressure

Blood pressure is a measurement of: the force placed on the artery walls by the blood as it flows through the body the amount of effort being made by the heart to push blood through the body how flexible the arteries are. Blood pressure is recorded using two numbers. When the blood pressure reading is written down, it looks like a fraction for example: 100/50. The 'fraction' in this example is read as 'one hundred over fifty.' The top number is called the systolic blood pressure (the highest pressure in the artery when the heart is pumping). The bottom reading is called the diastolic blood pressure (the pressure in the arteries when the heart relaxes between beats). A 'mean blood pressure' is the average blood pressure in the arteries.

blood type

There are 4 main blood types: A, B, AB and O. Blood is also referred to as Rh positive or Rh negative.

bradycardia

A slow heart rate (for babies, ‘slow’ means less than 90 beats per minute).

bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD)

Damage to the lungs and the airways in the lungs as a result of being on a respirator. Also referred to as 'Chronic Lung Disease' (CLD).

C

carbon dioxide (CO2)

A waste product that is produced by the cells of the body as they do their work. Carbon dioxide is carried by the blood to the lungs for disposal. The lungs get rid of CO2 when a person breathes out.

cardiologist

A doctor who specializes in the care of the heart.

catheter

A thin tube used to drain fluid out of the body (e.g. to drain urine out of the bladder). In some cases, a catheter may also be used to put fluid into the body (e.g. an intravenous or intra-arterial catheter).

central line

An intravenous line that is inserted into one of the large veins that are close to the heart.

cerebrospinal fluid (CSF)

CSF is the fluid that is produced in the ventricles of the brain and then flows around the brain and the spinal cord.

chest tube

A tube that is inserted through the chest wall to drain off any air or fluid that has collected outside of the lung (between the lung and the chest wall). Inserting a chest tube allows a collapsed lung to re-expand.

chronic lung disease (CLD)

Damage to the lungs and the airways in the lungs as a result of being on a respirator. Also referred to as bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD).

chronological age

Your baby's 'chronological age' is the amount of time since your baby was actually born. This is different from the 'adjusted or corrected age' which is the amount of time since the baby was supposed to be born (the due date).

clinical nurse specialist

A registered nurse who has taken additional course and training to prepare her for the role of 'expert'. In the case of clinical nurse specialists in NICU and SCN, they are experts in neonatal care, the needs of families and staff development.

complete blood count (CBC)

A measurement of the different types of cells found in the blood (e.g. white blood cells, red blood cells, platelets). A CBC can be used to check for a wide variety of things. For example, anemia (decreased red blood count) or the presence of an infection (increased or decreased white blood count).

continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP)

This is the term used to refer to a setting on a respirator or ventilator. It indicates how much pressure is being applied to the air that flows in and out of the lungs. It can also refer to a dedicated device that applies pressure to expand the lungs but unlike a ventilator it does not breath for the patient.

corticosteroids

Steroids given before delivery that have been shown to lower the risk of intraventricular hemorrhage (IVH) in the baby. These steroids are often given to women between 24 and 34 weeks gestation who are at risk of early delivery.

cubic centimeter (cc)

A unit of liquid measurement. A cubic centimeter is equivalent to one milliliter.

cultures

Laboratory tests that may be done to look for the cause of an infection.

H

hematocrit

The percentage of red blood cells in the blood.

hematologist

A doctor who specializes in the care of conditions involving the blood.

hemoglobin

The part of red blood cells that contains iron and is responsible for carrying oxygen to all of the cells and tissues in the body.

hyaline membrane disease (HMD or RDS)

For a baby to breath on it's own after birth, the air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs must be able to fill with air and stay open. This normally occurs because of a substance called surfactant. Surfactant is produced in the lungs. Unfortunately, many premature babies don't produce enough surfactant. As a result, the air sacs in the lungs don't stay open and the lungs can collapse between breaths. This prevents the lungs from doing their work -- which is to pick up oxygen from the air that is breathed in and to get rid of carbon dioxide in the air that is breathed out. Babies with respiratory distress syndrome often need to be given more oxygen than what is found in room air and they sometimes need to be put on a respirator to help them breathe effectively. We can now give premature babies surfactant through the baby's endotracheal tube where it then spreads to the rest of the lungs (including the tiny air sacs called alveoli).

hyperbilirubinemia

A higher than normal amount of bilirubin in the blood.

hypercalcemia

A higher than normal amount of calcium in the blood.

hypercapnia (hypercarbia)

A higher than normal amount of carbon dioxide in the blood.

hyperglycemia

A higher than normal amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood.

hyperkalemia

A higher than normal amount of potassium in the blood.

hypertension

A higher than normal blood pressure.

hypernatremia

A higher than normal amount of sodium in the blood.

hyperthermia

A higher than normal body temperature.

hyperventiliation

Abnormally rapid breathing.

hypocalcemia

A lower than normal amount of calcium in the blood.

hypoglycemia

A lower than normal amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood.

hypokalemia

A lower than normal amount of potassium in the blood.

hyponatremia

A lower than normal amount of sodium in the blood.

hypotension

A lower than normal blood pressure.

hypothermia

A lower than normal body temperature.

hypoxia

A lack of oxygen.

I

I and O

An abbreviation for the amount of fluids given to your baby (intake - e.g. gavage feedings, intravenous fluid) and the amount of fluid that was put out by, or removed from, your baby (output - e.g. urine, stool, blood, etc.)

ileostomy

The creation of a direct passage between the abdominal wall and the ileum (lower part of the small bowel). This passageway allows the contents of the small bowel to empty directly outside of the body rather than passing through the large bowel and out through the anus.

immune system

The immune system is made up of proteins and cells that defend the body against infection, foreign materials and the buildup of abnormal cells. The immune system isn't fully developed in premature babies. As a result, the risk of developing serious infections is higher in premature babies than in full-term babies.

infusion pump

A mechanical device that can be used to pump intravenous fluids, medications and liquid feedings into your baby in very accurate and controlled amounts over predefined periods of time.

intralipids ("lipids")

A form of intravenous nutrition (food) that can be given to your baby through a vein. It is a white fluid containing fatty acids. Intralipids are usually given along with TPN solution to provide all the nutrients your baby needs.

intracranial hemorrhage (ICH)

Bleeding that occurs somewhere inside the skull. Premature babies are at risk for bleeding into various parts of the brain because their blood vessels are so fragile. Even if bleeding occurs in the brain, most premature infants develop normally unless the bleeding and resulting brain damage have been severe.

intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR)

This term applies to babies that are small for their gestational age.

intravenous (IV)

A soft flexible tube that is inserted into a vein with a needle (which is then removed) to allow fluids to flow into the blood stream. Many premature babies are fed intravenously for the first while -- until they can tolerate feedings by gavage, gastrostomy tube, breast or bottle. In addition, an intravenous may be kept in place in order to give your baby medications. An intravenous line is sometimes placed in one of the veins in your baby's scalp, arms or legs. A vein in the scalp is used because these veins are easily accessible and the IV tubing can be taped securely.

intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIg or IgG)

Frequently abbreviated as IVIg or IgG (for intravenous gamma globulin). This procedure is used in the treatment of immune system disorders. It also is performed to improve the immune system's reaction to a serious illness. Concentrated antibodies collected from healthy individuals are put in a sterile solution and injected directly into a vein to help fight illness.

intraventricular hemorrhage (IVH)

A particular type of intracranial hemorrhage (ICH) where bleeding occurs into the cavities or chambers (ventricles) of the brain.

intubation

Placing a thin flexible tube into your baby's windpipe (trachea) to carry air in and out of the lungs. This tube is equired if your baby is on a respirator or ventillator.

isolette

Also called an incubator. An enclosed bed area where the level of oxygen, temperature, humidity and noise can be controlled. Your baby will be cared for in an isolette through portholes that allow for a caregiver's hands to go into the isolette without greatly affecting the amount of oxygen, the temperature or humidity.

P

patent ductus arteriosus (PDA)

A common condition in premature babies where the ductus arteriosus (that connects the aorta and the pulmonary artery) does not close after birth. See also: ductus arteriosus.

perinatal pharmacist

A pharmacist who specializes in the use of medications for newborn intensive care.

pH

A measurement of the amount of 'acid' compared to the amount of 'base' in the body. If the amount of acid is higher than the amount of base, the pH reading will be low. If the amount of base is higher than the amount of acid, the pH reading will be high.

phototherapy

This is a treatment for higher than normal amounts of bilirubin in the blood (see: jaundice). During phototherapy, your baby will be placed, with as little clothing as possible, under a special type of light (often called a bili-lamp) or on top of a bili-blanket. This light causes a chemical change to occur in the bilirubin molecules in the tissues under the skin. Once this chemical change occurs, the bilirubin can be excreted by the liver without the liver having to convert (conjugate) it. During the treatment, the baby will be placed in an isolette to keep him/her warm and the his/her eyes will be protected from the bright light with eye patches.

percutaneous intravenous catheter (PIC)

A special type of intravenous (soft flexible tube that is inserted into a vein with a needle (which is then removed) to allow fluids to flow into the blood stream. A PIC has a longer tube than a regular intraveous and is threaded to a more central, larger vein in your baby's body. This type of intravenous can be put in by specially trained nurses or doctors.

plasma

The clear part of the blood that remains when all of the blood cells have been removed. Also referred to as 'serum'.

platelets

The cells in the blood that are involved with blood clotting.

pneumonia

An infection of the lungs.

pneumothorax

A collection of air outside of the lung (between the lung and the chest wall).

polycythemia

A higher than normal amount of red blood cells in the blood.

positive end expiratory pressure (PEEP)

This is the term used to refer to a setting on the respirator or ventillator. It indicates how much pressure is being applied to the air that flows in and out of your baby's lungs. It's important that enough pressure is applied to keep your baby's lungs expanded, but not too much to cause damage to your baby's lungs.

premature

The words 'premature' or 'preterm' are used to describe a baby who is born before he or she has spent 37 weeks developing and growing inside the uterus. The 37 weeks is counted from conception (fertilization of the egg with a sperm) until the birth of the baby. See: 'Your Baby's Development Before Birth'. If a baby is born before 37 weeks, he or she will be underdeveloped compared to a 'full term' baby (who has spent 37 to 42 weeks in the uterus).

pseudomonas

A type of bacteria.

pulmonary insufficiency of the premature (PIP)

Breathing difficulties caused by immaturity of the lungs and lack of surfactant in premature babies.

pulse pressure

The difference between the systolic blood pressure and the diastolic blood pressure (see: blood pressure). If the pulse pressure increases (over 25) it can be a sign of patent ductus arteriosus.

R

radiologist

A medical doctor who has specialized in the use of x-rays and other techniques for the diagnosis and treatment of conditions.

resident

A doctor who has graduated from medical school and is taking additional training in a specific area of medical practice.

respirator

Also called a ventilator. A machine that is used to assist or replace breathing efforts by alternately forcing air into the lungs and allowing air to escape from the lungs.

respiratory distress syndrome (RDS, chronic lung disease, hyaline membrane disease)

For a baby to breath on it's own after birth, the air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs must be able to fill with air and stay open. This normally occurs because of a substance called surfactant. Surfactant is produced in the lungs. Unfortunately, many premature babies don't produce enough surfactant. As a result, the air sacs in the lungs don't stay open and the lungs can collapse between breaths. This prevents the lungs from doing their work -- which is to pick up oxygen from the air that is breathed in and to get rid of carbon dioxide in the air that is breathed out. Babies with respiratory distress syndrome often need to be given more oxygen than what is found in room air and they sometimes need to be put on a respirator to help them breathe effectively. We can now give premature babies surfactant through the baby's endotracheal tube where it then spreads to the rest of the lungs including the tiny air sacs called alveoli).

respiratory therapist

The person who specializes in supporting your baby's breathing. Apart from their extensive knowledge of breathing and the lungs, they are experts in the use of oxygen, endotracheal tubes, bagging units, and ventillators, etc.

retina

The light sensitive lining on the inside of the back of the eyeball. The retina is responsible for converting light messages that it receives into electrical signals that travel to the brain along the optic nerve.

retinopathy of prematurity (ROP)

Abnormal growth of the blood vessels in the retina. This condition occurs (especially in very small premature babies) because the growth of retinal blood vessels is not complete and the blood vessels tend to grow abnormally after birth. The chances of developing ROP are higher in babies with many medical complications and in those who require prolonged, high levels of oxygen.

room air

The term used to refer to the air that we normally breathe. It contains 21% oxygen. Your baby may require more than 21% oxygen in the air that he / she breathes for varying periods of time.


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