NICU Glossary

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Terminology Specific to the NICU 

Anemia: Abnormally low number of red blood cells.

Apnea: When breathing stops for 15 seconds or more. Sometimes the heart rate drops along with it. The nurse may rub or pat the infant to stimulate breathing.

Aspiration: Breathing or inhaling fluid such as amniotic fluid, meconium or formula into the lungs.

Alarms: All the equipment has some type of alarm system to alert staff of potential problems. With that said, if the nurse isn’t worried you needn’t worry. The desk area has a central monitor where the bedside nurse can monitor your infant. She can also monitor your infant at another patient’s bedside by pulling up that information on the monitor screen.

Bilirubin: A by-product from the breakdown of red blood cells that can cause a yellow coloring of the skin called jaundice.

Blood gas test: Measurement of levels of oxygen, carbon dioxide and the pH using a small amount of blood. Results are used to monitor how well the infant is responding to therapy.

Bradycardia: A slow heart rate, usually less than 100 beats per minute. Sometimes the infant needs stimulation to bring the heart rate back up.

Culture: A lab test done on blood, mucus, urine, or spinal fluid to test for the presence of infection.

Dextrostick: A test to measure glucose or sugar in the blood. The blood is usually obtained from a heel prick.

Endotracheal (ET) tube: A clear plastic tube that is passed through the mouth between the vocal cords and then into the windpipe. Breaths from the ventilator are given and mucus can be removed through this tube.

Gestational Age: An estimate of an infant’s age in weeks from the time of conception.

Post-conceptual age (PCA): Gestational age plus chronological age (age in weeks since birth). Example: an infant is delivered at 24 weeks gestation and is now 4 weeks old. Infant’s PCA is 28.

Corrected age or adjusted age: Chronological age in months minus the number of months premature. For example, if an infant is now 4 months old, but was born three months early, the corrected age is 1 month.

Hyperalimentation (TPN): A special IV solution that contains vitamins, glucose and nutrients that is given to infants who are not feeding or are only feeding small amounts.

Intralipids: An IV solution that contains fat used to provide calories during hyperalimentation.

Intraventricular hemorrhage (IVH): Bleeding occurring in the inner part of the brain, near the ventricles, where blood vessels that are very fragile are prone to rupture and bleed.

Nasal continuous positive airway pressure (NCPAP): Special prongs are placed in the infant’s nose for air and oxygen to be given at a certain pressure. The pressure helps keep the small air sacs in the lungs open, helping the infant breathe easier.

Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC): An intestinal disease in which portions of the bowel are damaged or destroyed because of poor blood flow, inflammation or infection.

NPO: Abbreviation for the Latin words “nil per os" meaning "nothing by mouth." The infant is not taking any formula.

Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA): An open blood vessel near the heart and lungs which is a necessary part of a fetus’ circulation. A PDA should normally close a few days after birth. If it lingers it can cause breathing difficulties and some heart failure.

Percutaneous Intravenous Central Catheter (PICC line): An intravenous line (IV) fed through a vein to a location close to the heart. The line can remain in place for up to a month.

Pneumothorax: Refers to air or gas in the chest cavity that result in collapse of the lung on the affected side.

Premature Infant: An infant with a gestational age less than 37 weeks.

Reflux: A backward flow of stomach contents into the throat.

Respiratory Distress Syndrome (RDS): A common lung disorder of premature infants in which there is a tendency for the tiny air sacs in the lungs to collapse.

Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP): An eye disease of preemies in which new blood vessels grow abnormally near the retina causing temporary or permanent damage.

Sepsis: An infection in the blood or tissues that may require antibiotics.

Suction: Removal of gas or fluid by mechanical means.

A special machine that helps an infant breathe when they can’t breathe on their own. Air and oxygen are given through an endotracheal tube (ET tube) which rests in the infant’s windpipe. Settings on the ventilator are adjusted based on the infant’s blood gases.

Vital Signs:
Refers to the measurement of temperature, pulse, respirations and blood pressure.

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