• assessment;
  • intensive care;
  • nursing;
  • pain;
  • sedated;
  • systematic review;
  • unconscious


Title. Pain assessment tools for unconscious or sedated intensive care patients: a systematic review.

Aim.  This paper is a report of a systematic review describing instruments developed for pain assessment in unconscious or sedated intensive care patients.

Background.  Intensive care patients who are unconscious or sedated are unable to communicate and therefore recognition and assessment of the pain is difficult. To assess these patients’ pain, it is important to use a valid and reliable pain assessment tool.

Data sources.  A systematic bibliographical review was conducted, based on seven databases, covering the period from January 1987 to February 2007. A total of 1,586 abstracts was identified and reviewed, 58 papers were selected for full-text review and nine papers were included in the review.

Methods.  Two researchers independently reviewed the abstracts and three reviewers extracted the papers. The included papers were evaluated using a quality assessment instrument previously developed to evaluate pain assessment tools.

Results.  Five different pain assessment tools were identified that had been used with unconscious or sedated intensive care patients. All five instruments included behavioural indicators and three included physiological indicators. Their psychometric properties varied and it was not possible to deduce their clinical utility.

Conclusion.  All instruments were reasonably new. In most of them psychometric testing was in an early stage or even absent. Before any of the reported instruments can be chosen in preference to others, it is essential to test their validity, reliability and feasibility further.