Document Type


Original Publication Date


Journal/Book/Conference Title

Critical Care



DOI of Original Publication



Originally published at

Date of Submission

September 2014


Management of analgesia and sedation in the intensive care unit requires evaluation and monitoring of key parameters in order to detect and quantify pain and agitation, and to quantify sedation. The routine use of subjective scales for pain, agitation, and sedation promotes more effective management, including patient-focused titration of medications to specific end-points. The need for frequent measurement reflects the dynamic nature of pain, agitation, and sedation, which change constantly in critically ill patients. Further, close monitoring promotes repeated evaluation of response to therapy, thus helping to avoid over-sedation and to eliminate pain and agitation. Pain assessment tools include self-report (often using a numeric pain scale) for communicative patients and pain scales that incorporate observed behaviors and physiologic measures for noncommunicative patients. Some of these tools have undergone validity testing but more work is needed. Sedation-agitation scales can be used to identify and quantify agitation, and to grade the depth of sedation. Some scales incorporate a step-wise assessment of response to increasingly noxious stimuli and a brief assessment of cognition to define levels of consciousness; these tools can often be quickly performed and easily recalled. Many of the sedation-agitation scales have been extensively tested for inter-rater reliability and validated against a variety of parameters. Objective measurement of indicators of consciousness and brain function, such as with processed electroencephalography signals, holds considerable promise, but has not achieved widespread implementation. Further clarification of the roles of these tools, particularly within the context of patient safety, is needed, as is further technology development to eliminate artifacts and investigation to demonstrate added value.


© 2008 BioMed Central Ltd

Is Part Of

VCU Internal Medicine Publications