Patients' experiences of being mechanically ventilated in an ICU: a qualitative metasynthesis

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Being a patient in an intensive care unit (ICU) and being mechanically ventilated is a scary and unpleasant experience to many patients. Qualitative studies describe these Patients' experiences, but the findings have not yet been synthesised.


The aim of this study was to gather and synthesise interpreted knowledge from qualitative studies about Patients' experiences of being mechanically ventilated in an ICU.


A qualitative metasynthesis was conducted on findings from nine qualitative studies performed in the period from 1994 to 2012. The studies were critically appraised according to the method defined by Sandelowski and Barosso, and the findings were extracted, edited, grouped and abstracted. Subsequently, the abstracted findings were analysed, using the constant comparison analysis. In the analysis, we used findings from patients with home ventilation and findings from patients admitted to an ICU, while they were not ventilated.


Fifteen abstracted findings appeared from the metasynthesis and led to the synthesised finding: ‘Being dependent on health professionals, without being able to communicate, causes experiences with anxiety, fear and loneliness. How intensively these feelings are experienced seems to depend on the health professionals' ability of being present with these patients. The presence of relatives can alleviate these experiences'.


This study shows that patients being mechanically ventilated in an ICU experience an emic vulnerability, consisting of anxiety, fear and loneliness.

Implications for practice:

In future practice, it is expected that patients will be more awake during mechanical ventilation. It is therefore important that health professionals have the knowledge that their presence and their support of the relationship between the patient and his/her relatives are of great importance in the care of patients.

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