What Does 'Critical' Mean in Hospitalese?

When loved ones--and celebrities--are hospitalized, everyone wants to know about their condition, but what does it all mean? Here are some definitions.

* Good: Vital signs (blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, temperature) are stable and within normal limits. The patient is comfortable and conscious; outlook is excellent.

* Fair: Basically, the same as good condition, except the patient may be uncomfortable; outlook is favorable.

* Serious: Vital signs may be unstable and not within normal limits. Patient is considered acutely ill; outlook is questionable.

* Critical: Vital signs are unstable and not within normal limits. The patient may also be unconscious; outlook is not favorable.

State law allows a hospital to disclose the general condition of a patient to the media unless the patient or next of kin asks hospital officials not to do so.

Sources: Dr. P.K. Shah, UCLA professor of medicine and director of cardiology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center; Kathy Byrne, California Healthcare Assn.

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