The first intensive care unit in the world: Copenhagen 1953

  title={The first intensive care unit in the world: Copenhagen 1953},
  author={P G Berthelsen and Marie Cronqvist},
  journal={Acta Anaesthesiologica Scandinavica},
After an extensive survey of the medical literature we present compelling evidence that the first intensive care unit was established at Kommunehospitalet in Copenhagen in December 1953. The pioneer was the Danish anaesthetist Bjørn Ibsen. The many factors that interacted favourably in Copenhagen to promote the idea of intensive care therapy, half a century ago, are also described. 

‘The Most Important Problem in the Hospital’: Nursing in the Development of the Intensive Care Unit, 1950–1965

This article addresses the planning, staffing, and construction of ICUs in the United States during the 1950s.

The birth of intensive care medicine: Björn Ibsen’s records

The birth of intensive care medicine was a process that took place in Copenhagen, Denmark, during and after the poliomyelitis epidemic in 1952/1953, when an anaesthesiologist was brought out of the operating theatre and asked to use his skills on a 12-year-old girl suffering from polio.

Intensive care in Australia and New Zealand.

A History of Intensive Care Medicine

Most historians believe that Bjorn Ibsen’s response to the 1952 polio epidemic in Copenhagen led to intensive care medicine (ICM) and intensive care units (ICUs) and the development of blood gas analysis by Poul Astrup.

“Less Is More”: The New Paradigm in Critical Care

The last decade has witnessed a slew of studies that have challenged conventional wisdom and which have led to a gentler, less invasive approach to the critically ill patient… this has led to the paradigm that “Less may be More” (see list below).

An investigation of the development of intensive care of adults in England and Wales

In 1952 Bjorn Ibsen, a Danish anaesthetist, treated patients with bulbo-spinal poliomyelitis with a regime based on intubation of the trachea and intermittent positive-pressure ventilation (IPPV) of the lungs, considered to have initiated the development of modern intensive care throughout the world.

The First Neurointensive Care Units

The physical presence of a neurointensivist in a neurosciences intensive care unit has been a landmark development, and neurocritical care as a specialty has now finally been established.

From Copenhagen to Critical Care

In 1952, a poliomyelitis epidemic struck Copenhagen, causing 2,722 hospital admissions, and anaesthetist Bjorn Aage Ibsen implemented tracheostomy and manual intermittent positive pressure ventilation (IPPV) to manage respiratory failure, thereby markedly decreasing mortality.

What Defines an Intensive Care Unit

The history of critical care medicine and the evolution of different staffing models are explored in an ICU where critically ill and injured patients undergo continuous monitoring and support of failing organ systems.

Intensive care in the developing world

Hospital mortality can be reduced by increasing nurse/patient ratios, adequate monitoring and initiating postoperative intermittent positive pressure ventilation when required, and using appropriate technology, for instance using oxygen concentrators and a ventilator not dependent on compressed gases or disposable circuits.



Hemodynamic and metabolic therapy in critically ill patients.

  • T. Evans
  • Medicine
    The New England journal of medicine
  • 2001
The poliomyelitis epidemic of 1952 in Denmark was a key impetus for the development of modern critical care medicine, and the benefits derived from normalizing abnormal physiological functions in patients represented a clinical vindication of the 19th-century theories of Claude Bernard.

Modern anaesthesiological principles for bulbar polio: manual IPPR in the 1952 polio–epidemic in Copenhagen

The place where the two lines of development intersected, resulting in the obliteration of the one and a boom for the other, was Blegdamshospital, Copenhagen’s hospital for communicable diseases, where physicians countered the devastating 1952 polio-epidemic with the introduction of what Mushin called, “the revolutionary new treatment of tracheostomy and manually controlled respiration”.


It is concluded from the work that induced hyperventilation with large tidal volumes decreased the blood flow to most tissues, whereas hyperventilated with increased frequency keeping the tidal volume constant did not affect the cardiac output and the flow in the splanchnic area in the same way.

Modern anaesthesiological principles for bulbar polio: manual IPPR in the 1952 polio-epidemic in Copenhagen.

  • G. Wackers
  • Medicine
    Acta anaesthesiologica Scandinavica
  • 1994

On treatment of barbiturate poisoning; a modified clinical aspect.

  • E. Nilsson
  • Medicine
    Acta medica Scandinavica. Supplementum
  • 1951

The Anæsthetist's Viewpoint on the Treatment of Respiratory Complications in Poliomyelitis during the Epidemic in Copenhagen, 1952

  • B. Ibsen
  • Medicine
    Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine
  • 1954