'ICU' vs 'CCU': What's the Difference?

By Amy Gilmore, updated on September 17, 2023

Are you looking for an explanation of the difference between 'ICU' vs. 'CCU?'

Here is the quick version:

  • 'ICU' and 'CCU' are both units found in a hospital. 
  • An 'ICU' is an intensive care unit or a place where doctors provide specialized care for critically ill or injured patients, but specializes in treating any part of the body. 
  • A 'CCU' is an abbreviation for critical care unit, cardiac care unit, or coronary care unit, where the staff provides cardiac-specific or critical care treatments for patients who are dependent on equipment to live while they recover from illnesses or injuries. 

The answer above gives a summary, but there is much more to learn about the difference between these two terms. So, keep reading!

What is the Difference Between 'ICU' vs. 'CCU?'

If you have heard the terms 'ICU' and 'CCU' and are wondering the difference between them, you are not alone. Many people outside of the medical community do not know.

An 'ICU' is an intensive care unit, and a 'CCU' is a critical care unit. In an 'ICU' doctors and nurses treat patients for many types of injuries and illnesses that may involve multi-organ failure.

The equipment in the 'ICU' is similar to that found in the 'CCU.' Both have life support equipment. However, the 'CCU' sometimes specializes in caring for patients with:

  • Heart conditions
  • Liver failure
  • Metabolic disorders
  • Drug overdose
  • Pneumonia
  • Intracranial Hemorrhage
  • Stroke
  • Pulmonary embolism

However, the treatments provided in each differ from hospital to hospital, and not all facilities have both units.

Smaller hospitals are unlikely to have an 'ICU' and 'CCU.' Instead, they typically see all critical patients in the intensive care unit, and some people use these terms interchangeably.

Definition of 'ICU': What Does 'ICU' Mean?

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, 'ICU' is an abbreviation of intensive care unit which means:

  • A hospital unit that provides care to critically ill and injured patients and has specially trained medical staff and equipment necessary for life support and round-the-clock monitoring

It can also mean:

  • Critical care unit

Definition of 'CCU': What Does 'CCU' Mean?

The same defines 'CCU' as an abbreviation that means:

  • Critical care unit
  • Coronary care unit
  • Cardiac care unit

Critical care unit means:

  • A hospital unit equipped to treat critically ill or injured patients

It can also mean:

  • Intensive care unit

Similar Terms: 'ICU' and 'CCU'

The 'ICU' and 'CCU' are just two of the many units you may find in a hospital.

Others include:

  • MICU - Medical intensive care unit
  • OR - Operating room
  • ER - Emergency room
  • ED - Emergency department
  • NICU - Neonatal intensive care unit
  • PICU - Pediatric intensive care unit

Pronunciation: How to Pronounce 'ICU' vs. 'CCU'

Next, look at the pronunciation of 'ICU' vs. 'CCU.' Learning the correct way to say certain terms can help raise your confidence in your language skills, which is vital if you are speaking in public or learning English as a second language.

So, here is a pronunciation guide you can reference.

  • Use this phonetic spelling to pronounce 'ICU':


  • Use this phonetic spelling to pronounce 'CCU':


How and When to Use 'ICU' vs. 'CCU'

Knowing the difference between terms is beneficial, but it is also helpful to know when and how to use them. So, here are some tips:

  • Use 'ICU' when giving someone directions to a specific room in the intensive care unit.

For example, you might say:

If you want to come to the ICU to visit Aunt Suzy, you must arrive before 7:30 and can only stay until 9 p.m. 

  • Use 'ICU' if talking about a unit in the hospital that provides life support.

As an example, I might say:

After the accident, he was in the hospital's ICU for three months. 

  • Use 'CCU' to refer to the coronary or cardiac care unit.

For example, you can say:

He is stable, but he suffered a heart attack. He is being treated in the CCU at St. Luke's. 

  • Use 'CCU' if you are directing someone to a critical care unit within a hospital.

So, you might say:

You need to park in the garage and use the orange elevators to come to the lobby. You have to check in there before you can come up to the CCU.

Sample Sentences Using 'ICU' vs. 'CCU'

Reading sample sentences using terms is a great way to commit them to memory. So, here are some sample sentences using 'ICU' vs. 'CCU.'


  • The ICU has special equipment that keeps patients alive as they recover from critical illnesses and injuries.
  • The staff in the ICU often has to deal with the emotional impact of losing patients.
  • Children are rarely allowed in the ICU.
  • Strict rules in the ICU keep patients and staff members safe.
  • When you visit the ICU, it is important to be quiet and respectful.


  • The resident is doing his rotation in the CCU this week.
  • This holiday season, we are bringing food to the families with relatives in the CCU.
  • You will end up in the CCU again if you do not make lifestyle changes after having a heart attack.
  • The CCU has to be specially sanitized to prevent the spread of disease and infections.
  • Each person who visits the CCU has to check in with the reception desk to receive a visitor's badge.


  • The cardiologist does rounds in the ICU and CCU.
  • I am not sure if she is in the ICU or CCU. So, when you get to the reception desk, tell them you are visiting  Janice Planter. They will direct you to the correct department.

Recap: 'ICU' vs. 'CCU' Differences

After reading this entire guide, you should have no problem identifying the difference between 'ICU' vs. 'CCU,' but here is a quick recap:  

  • 'ICU' is an abbreviation for intensive care unit, a hospital that teaches critically injured or ill patients.
  • 'CCU' is an abbreviation for critical care unit and cardiac or coronary care unit, which treat people with life-threatening medical conditions.
  • Both units have specially trained staff and equipment that aids life support and 24/7 monitoring. 

Just remember to use the appropriate term for the specific unit if you are giving instructions on how to visit someone or directions to a specific patient room.

And, if you are curious about the difference between other words, check them out in the confusing words section here.

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Written By:
Amy Gilmore
Amy Gilmore is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. She has been a professional writer and editor for the past eight years. She developed a love of language arts and literature in school and decided to become a professional freelance writer after a demanding career in real estate. Amy is constantly learning to become a better writer and loves sharing tips with other writers who want to do the same.

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