Prevalence and Characteristics of Chronic Intensive Care–Related Pain: The Role of Severe Sepsis and Septic Shock

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There is only limited knowledge about chronic pain conditions resulting from critical care. Experimental and clinical data suggest a close relationship between inflammation and pain perception. Since sepsis is the most severe form of systemic inflammation, the primary objective was to evaluate chronic pain states and functional impairment of septic and nonseptic patients 6 months after discharge from ICU. Second, we aimed to obtain the total prevalence and characteristics of chronic ICU-related pain.


Case-control study.


Observational study in long-term survivors of mixed surgical and medical ICUs.


Septic and nonseptic survivors of critical care (n = 207) and healthy controls (n = 46).



Measurements and Main Results:

We collected comprehensive information on patients’ past and present pain 6 months after ICU discharge by means of the German pain questionnaire. Pain intensity levels and pain interference ratings were compared between septic and nonseptic patients and healthy controls. We found no differences in prevalence, severity, and interference of pain between septic and nonseptic patients. However, both patient groups differed significantly from controls. In secondary analysis, a third of all patients reported chronic clinically relevant pain associated with the ICU stay 6 months after ICU discharge. Half of these patients experienced chronic pain conditions before ICU admission and reported additional sources of pain. Most important, 16% of all patients had no preexisting pain condition and now experience chronic ICU-related pain. The majority of patients with chronic ICU-related pain reported a high degree of disabling pain, limiting daily activities.


A high percentage of former ICU patients develop chronic pain conditions associated with critical care. These patients differ significantly from control data in terms of pain intensity and show high levels of interference with pain. The presence of sepsis per se seems to play a marginal role for the development of chronic ICU-related pain.

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