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 - Northwestern Memorial Hospital - Chicago

Medical Terms

It can be difficult dealing with the emotions of having a baby in the Neonatol Intensive Care Unit (NICU) . Learning many new medical terms and procedures may add to a parent's stress level. We encourage you to ask the nurses, doctor, and other nursery personnel questions if there is anything that you do not understand concerning your baby's care.

Some medical terms and procedures that you may hear during your baby's stay in the NIC-U are included in the following list of medical terms. Not all terms and procedures listed will apply to your baby:

  • Adjusted Age is a premature baby's age counting from the mother's due date. For example, if a baby was born at 30 weeks (gestational age) and is currently 14 weeks old, the baby's adjusted age is 4 weeks.
  • Anemia is a blood condition that exists in many premature infants in which the number of red blood cells are decreased in relation to the total volume of blood. Red blood cells carry oxygen to all body tissues.
  • Antibiotic is a drug that fights bacterial infection.
  • Apnea or Apneic Episode is a short period when no breathing occurs. Apneic episodes commonly occur in premature infants. When apnea and bradycardia occur together they may be referred to as an "A" and "B." Infants often start breathing and increase their heart rate on their own with no intervention from nursery personnel.
  • Bilirubin is a pigment in the blood stream that comes from the breakdown of red blood cells. This pigment causes the skin to become yellow (jaundiced).
  • Blood Culture is a blood test that screens for bacterial infection. It takes 48 hours for test results.
  • Blood Gases (Arterial Blood Gases or Capillary Blood Gases) is a lab test for measuring the levels of oxygen, carbon dioxide, and acidity (pH) in the blood. This information helps the medical team treat infants with respiratory distress.
  • Bradycardia is an abnormal slowing of the heart rate. Bradycardia often occurs a few seconds after the onset of an episode of apnea. Premature infants usually outgrow apnea and bradycardia spells.
  • Caffeine is a medicine used commonly in the treatment of apnea and bradycardia.
  • Catheters are thin, flexible, hollow tubes which come in many sizes and styles. Catheters have many uses. For example, a bladder catheter drains urine.
  • Continuous Nasogastric (CNG) Feeding is a breastmilk or formula feeding given to the infant over a 24-hour period through a nasogastric tube.
  • Corrected Age is the baby's gestational age plus the chronological age. For example, a two-week-old baby born at 30 weeks gestational age has a corrected age of 32 weeks.
  • Cyanosis is a bluish color of the skin and lips due to poor circulation or low oxygen in the blood.
  • Endotracheal Tube (ET Tube) is a small tube passed through the mouth into the trachea (windpipe). It provides air directly to the lungs. ET tubes are attached to ventilator.
  • Gavage feeding (Bolus feeding, NG Feeding or Tube Feeding) is feeding an infant breastmilk or formula through a nasogastric tube (placed in the stomach).
  • Gestational Age is the number of weeks the baby remains in the uterus, based on the date of the mother's last menstrual period (LMP). When the LMP is in question, the gestational age can be determined from the doctor's physical examination of the baby.
  • Hyperalimentation (Hyperal, HA or HA Fluids) is a solution of protein, sugar, minerals and vitamins given to a baby IV (into the vein). This provides fluids and needed nutrients.
  • Hyperbilirubinemia is an increased amount of bilirubin in the blood.
  • Intralipids (Lipids or ILs) is a solution of fat (lipids) given to an infant IV (into the vein).
  • Intravenous Catheter (IV, PIV, Peripheral IV, Angio-Cath IV) is a tube or needle placed in the infant's vein to provide fluids.
  • Intubation is the process of placing an endotracheal tube.
  • Isolette is a small enclosed bassinet where your baby sleeps. The isolette provides a warm environment.
  • Jaundice is a yellow color of the infant's skin caused by the increased bilirubin levels.
  • Kangaroo Care is skin to skin contact between infant and parent; placing infant on parent's chest. Ask the nurse for the video and brochure.
  • Meconium is the first stools of an infant that are thick, sticky, and dark green-to-black in color.
  • Nasogastric Tube (NG or NG Tube) is a tube passed through the nose into the stomach. It is used either to empty the stomach or to give feedings.
  • NPO is an abbreviation of a doctor's order which means "nothing by mouth." During NPO, the infant can only be fed IV (into the vein).
  • Nasopharyngeal Tube (NP Tube) is a small tube placed in the infant's nose to the back of the throat to assist breathing.
  • Percutaneous Central Venous Catheter (PCVC) is a catheter placed in a vein and threaded to a large blood vessel near the heart. PCVCs allow us to give infants fluids and nutrients on a long term basis until they are ready to be fed breastmilk or formula.
  • Phototherapy is a special light used to treat high bilirubion levels.
  • Pulse Oximeter Monitor is a small device that wraps around the infant's foot or hand that checks oxygen level in the blood.
  • Radiant Warmer Bed (or Ohio bed) is a special bed that keeps the baby warm by providing radiant heat from a source above the baby.
  • Respiratory Distress is a difficult, labored breathing that may require respiratory assistance.
  • Surfactant is a medication given in the lungs that reduces surface tension and helps expand the small air sacs in the lungs. This helps decrease severity of respiratory distress syndrome.
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome (RDS) is caused by a leak of pulmonary surfactant, a substance that affects the surface tensions of the alveoli, or tiny air sacs, within the lungs. Without enough surfactant, the alveoli collapse and fail to expand. As a result, oxygen levels in the blood become low and the infant's breathing becomes difficult.
  • Room Air refers to the air in the environment which contains about 21 percent oxygen.
  • Sepsis is an infection in the blood caused by bacteria.
  • Suction is a method to remove mucus and secretions from the nose, throat or endotracheal tube using a thin plastic tube. The tube is attached to a machine that draws out the mucus.
  • Tachypnea is rapid breathing.
  • Transfusion is the process of giving blood into an IV. In some cases, parents, family or friends may donate blood for an infant. The donor's blood must be carefully checked to see that it is compatible with the baby's blood type.
  • Umbilical Venous Catheter (UVC) or Umbilical Arterial Catheter (UAC) is a small catheter placed through the vessels in the infant's umbilical cord. The catheters allow us to give infants fluids and nutrients and to obtain small samples of blood for testing.
  • Ventilator is a machine that provides mechanical ventilation (breathing) for the baby.


Last UpdateJune 10, 2011


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