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How is pain assessed?

Patients may experience pain and discomfort while in the intensive care unit (ICU).

  • Preventing and relieving pain are top priorities of the health-care team.
    • If a patient is able to talk, point, or nod his or her head, nurses will use a tool called the Numeric Rating Scale;
    • Patients are asked to rate their pain on a scale of 0 to 10;
    • If a patient scores their pain at 4 or above, he or she will be given pain relieving medication (analgesia).
  • Because of your personal knowledge of the patient, you may be better able to recognize facial expressions and behaviours that indicate pain. If you think your loved one is in pain, please discuss this with the nurse.

What can be done for patients who can’t communicate?

Many patients in the ICU are unable to talk, point, or nod their head for some part of their ICU stay.

  • For these patients, nurses use another tool that considers facial expressions and other behaviours that indicate pain;
  • If pain is present, pain-relieving medications will be given;
  • Other strategies to relieve pain include positioning and massage.

How often is pain assessed?

Nurses assess for pain every 1 to 4 hours and more often if needed.

How is difficult-to-treat pain managed?

  • Sometimes it can be difficult to completely relieve pain. The team may try different combinations of drugs to be successful;
  • A specialist pain team can provide additional advice to the ICU team;
  • Some drugs that help treat pain may cause sleepiness.

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Location and contact

Critical Care Medicine

Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre
2075 Bayview Avenue, 
D-wing, 1st floor
room D1 08
Toronto, ON M4N 3M5

Phone: 416-480-4522
Fax: 416-480-4999

For information about patients admitted to Sunnybrook's Intensive Care Units, please contact the unit through the hospital switchboard at 416-480-6100