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What is PICU? What is the Difference Between PICU & NICU?

January 9, 2023

New born babies are vulnerable to catch various infections from their surroundings as their immunity is very low. If a new born baby has some medical issue, they need special medical attention. The regular rooms or the ICUs that are designed to take care of older people, will not suffice. They also need staff who are specifically trained to take care of such tiny human beings. This is where PICU and NICU come in.

What is a PICU?

Book an appointment with Dr. Manish Ramteke for pediatric concerns.

The full form of PICU is a Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. The PICU will have staff and doctors trained to take care of very sick children. Unlike regular wards or rooms, in the PICU, a child will receive the highest level of medical care and support, and close attention and monitoring that the hospital can offer

Children are admitted into the PICU when there are severe health or medical complications that might require specialized treatments, ventilators or drugs that can be given only under close supervision. Even in a children’s hospital, such facilities are not available on every hospital floor or in the regular ward rooms.

A PICU is just like any hospital ICU, but specifically dedicated for children. So, if a kid who is under treatment in another part of the hospital develops some complication suddenly or if a child has met with an accident and requires immediate medical attention and monitoring, they are taken to the PICU.

What is a NICU?

NICU stands for Neonatal Intensive Care Unit where new born babies with health complications or those who require extra medical care are treated.

Unlike the regular ICU, the NICU will have medical staff and doctors (neonatologists) who are well-trained to take care of small babies. The NICU will also have the facilities and equipment's to support a new born.

When you choose a hospital for the delivery of your baby, choose one that has a well-equipped NICU. We can never be sure about what complication may arise during or after the delivery. In such an emergency, it becomes a difficult task to transfer a new born with close to zero immunity, to another hospital for NICU facilities. The transport of a new born baby is in itself a risky affair.

Some of the reasons a baby might be taken into the NICU are:

What is the Difference Between PICU & NICU?

Apart from the full form, there are some key differences between these two units. While babies, young children and even young adults can be admitted to a PICU for critical medical needs, only new born babies are admitted to NICU. Sometimes young babies with medical needs that cannot be taken care of by the PICU will be admitted into the NICU but you will never find older children in this unit.

Both the PICU and NICU will have medical professionals specifically trained to take care of children and treat serious illnesses common to this age group. The units are split into 3 categories based on the level of treatment or assistance required.

When Does a Baby go into a PICU?

Some of the reasons your child can be admitted into the PICU are

  • Severe illness that requires close monitoring and medications
  • Severe breathing trouble that requires extra support via equipment (ventilator)
  • The child has a serious accident (traumatic injury)
  • Severe infections that require immediate attention and a safer environment to prevent from spreading
  • Complications of underlying health conditions
  • Close monitoring or worsening of autoimmune diseases

A child may be transferred to the PICU from the regular ward for numerous reasons. Some of them may be even transferred back to the normal ward. The number of hours or days a child spends in the PICU is very subjective and depends on the medical issue

What Happens in PICU?

No parent wants to see their child going into a hospital, especially into PICU. When a child enters the PICU, they need to be prepared for the following:

  • IVs & Monitors – Only if a child is in a serious or critical condition they will be admitted into PICU. In such cases, the doctors will insert an IV line to administer medicines and fluids. The baby will be hooked up to monitors to keep a close watch on various parameters
  • Medicines & Tests – Numerous tests may be done regularly, to monitor the child’s progress. Medications can be changed from time to time to address the changing issues
  • Extra Support – Some children might need ventilators to support their system function properly.


When your child is sick and needs immediate medical attention, you are bound to rush them to the nearest hospital. Ensure you take your sick child to a hospital that has a PICU wing. In case of complications, your child will need immediate medical assistance and support for which shifting them to another hospital may not be feasible at all times


1. Are new born babies admitted into the PICU?

No, new born babies may be taken to the NICU, in case any issue requires immediate medical attention.

2. What is level-3 PICU

Level-3 PICU is a tertiary level PICU where generally patients with respiratory or cardiac disease are admitted. At this level, there are beds with ventilators, one-on-one nurses for a high level of monitoring and access to a blood bank 24 hours.

Must Read : Inside the PICU: What Is a Pediatric Intensive Care Unit?

Want to consult the Best Pediatricians in India? Please find the links below.

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