What Does “Critical But Stable” Mean?

You've heard the term in the news, but what does "critical but stable condition" really mean?

For actor Jeremy Renner, 2023 is off to a shaky start. On Jan. 1, the award-winning actor known for performances in countless films including the military movie The Hurt Locker was in an accident involving a snow plow. Reports state that Renner is in critical but stable condition. As a result, this medical term has been circulating in the news, leaving many to wonder what the term actually means. Here’s what the term “critical but stable” actually means.

What does “critical but stable” mean?

Emergency rooms and hospitals all across the country use different terminology to communicate the status of patients. It’s common for healthcare providers to assess patient conditions by using words like critical, serious, fair, good and undetermined; however, some hospitals and healthcare institutions use even more specific terms. A case in point is the phrase “critical but stable condition,” which means that a patient is in critical condition, but doctors have stabilized them and they are unlikely to get worse in the near future.

For Renner, the term indicates a path to recovery. The actor was airlifted to a nearby hospital following the weather-related accident and is currently receiving excellent care. The accident serves as an important reminder of the dangers related to driving any vehicle in the snow, be it light snow or a full-blown snowstorm.

What’s the difference between “critical but stable” and “critical condition?”

Despite the rising popularity of the term “critical but stable condition,” it isn’t always the preferred phrasing for doctors, nurses and others working in the healthcare industry. Some healthcare providers intentionally choose not to use this terminology out of concern that it may be confusing. Describing a patient’s condition as critical typically means that they are suffering from grave injuries or an otherwise serious diagnosis, which is often accompanied by unstable vitals. Keeping the standard definition of “critical” in mind, it’s easy to see how the term “critical but stable” could be somewhat misleading, if not entirely contradictory.

While little public information was released to the public regarding Renner’s condition, social media has been flooded with support for the actor, as well as wishes for a swift recovery. The actor himself posted on Instagram on Jan. 3, putting up a picture from his hospital bed. While he seems obviously injured, this seems to indicate he’s on track to recover.

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Nina Derwin
Nina Derwin is a Brooklyn-based writer with a passion for the art of storytelling. In addition to writing articles for various clients and publications, Nina has written several episodes of scripted television for networks including Starz and Fox.