The origin of this important branch of medicine lies in the eﬀective use of positive-pressure VENTILATION of the lungs to treat respiratory breathing failure in patients aﬀected by POLIOMYELITIS in an outbreak of this potentially fatal disease in Denmark in 1952. Doctors reduced to 40 per cent, the 90 per cent mortality in patients receiving respiratory support with the traditional cuirass ventilator by using the new technique. They achieved this with a combination of manual positive-pressure ventilation provided through a TRACHEOSTOMY by medical students, and by looking after the patients in a speciﬁc area of the hospital, allowing the necessary staﬃng and equipment resources to be concentrated in one place.
The principle of one-to-one, 24-hours-a-day care for seriously ill patients has been widely adopted and developed for the initial treatment of many patients with life-threatening conditions. Thus, severely injured patients – those with serious medical conditions such as coronary thrombosis or who have undergone major surgery, and individuals suﬀering from potentially lethal toxic aﬀects of poisons – are treated in an INTENSIVE THERAPY UNIT (ITU). Patients whose respiratory or circulatory systems have failed beneﬁt especially by being intensively treated. Most patients, especially post-operative ones, leave intensive care when their condition has been stabilised, usually after 24 or 48 hours. Some, however, need support for several weeks or even months. Since 1952, intensive medicine has become a valued specialty and a demanding one because of the range of skills needed by the doctors and nurses manning the ITUs.