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ICU Psychosis (Intensive Care Unit Psychosis)

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ICU psychosis facts

  • Patients in an intensive care unit (ICU) or hospital may become delirious.
  • ICU psychosis is a temporary condition and can be treated.
  • There is no difference between ICU psychosis and delirium.
  • ICU psychosis can be treated by a variety of methods and treatments.
  • ICU psychosis is an increasingly prevalent problem and may occur at any time during recovery from an acute illness or traumatic event.
  • ICU psychosis can be dangerous.
  • All efforts should be made to relieve ICU psychosis.
  • The signs of psychosis usually resolve shortly after the patient leaves the ICU.
  • ICU psychosis may last 24 hours or even up to two weeks with various symptoms occurring at different times.
  • Many factors can be involved in causing ICU psychosis.

What is ICU psychosis?

ICU psychosis is a disorder in which patients in an intensive care unit (ICU) or a similar setting experience a cluster of serious psychiatric symptoms. Another term that may be used interchangeably for ICU psychosis is ICU syndrome. ICU psychosis is also a form of delirium, or acute brain failure.

What causes ICU psychosis?

Environmental Causes

  • Sensory deprivation: A patient being put in a room that often has no windows, and is away from family, friends, and all that is familiar and comforting.
  • Sleep disturbance and deprivation: The constant disturbance and noise with the hospital staff coming at all hours to check vital signs, give medications, etc.
  • Continuous light levels: Continuous disruption of the normal biorhythms with lights on continually (no reference to day or  night).
  • Stress: Patients in an ICU frequently feel the almost total loss of control over their life.
  • Lack of orientation: A patient's loss of time and date.
  • Medical monitoring: The continuous monitoring of the patient's vital signs, and the noise monitoring devices produce can be disturbing and create sensory overload.

Medical Causes

  • Pain which may not be adequately controlled in an ICU
  • Critical illness: The pathophysiology of the disease, illness or traumatic event - the stress on the body during an illness can cause a variety of symptoms.
  • Medication (drug) reaction or side effects: The administration of medications typically given to the patient in the hospital setting that they have not taken before.
  • Infection creating fever and toxins in the body.
  • Metabolic disturbances: electrolyte imbalance, hypoxia (low blood oxygen levels), and elevated liver enzymes.
  • Heart failure (inadequate cardiac output)
  • Cumulative analgesia (the inability to feel pain while still conscious)
  • Dehydration
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/2/2016


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