Pain management within the palliative and end-of-life care experience in the ICU

Richard A. Mularski, Kathleen Puntillo, Basil Varkey, Brian L. Erstad, Mary Jo Grap, Hugh C. Gilbert, Denise Li, Justine Medina, Chris Pasero, Curtis N. Sessler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations


In the ICU where critically ill patients receive aggressive life-sustaining interventions, suffering is common and death can be expected in up to 20% of patients. High-quality pain management is a part of optimal therapy and requires knowledge and skill in pharmacologic, behavioral, social, and communication strategies grounded in the holistic palliative care approach. This contemporary review article focuses on pain management within comprehensive palliative and end-of-life care. These key points emerge from the transdisciplinary review: (1) all ICU patients experience opportunities for discomfort and suffering regardless of prognosis or goals, thus palliative therapy is a requisite approach for every patient, of which pain management is a principal component; (2) for those dying in the ICU, an explicit shift in management to comfort-oriented care is often warranted and may be the most beneficial treatment the health-care team can offer; (3) communication and cultural sensitivity with the patient-family unit is a principal approach for optimizing palliative and pain management as part of comprehensive ICU care; (4) ethical and legal misconceptions about the escalation of opiates and other palliative therapies should not be barriers to appropriate care, provided the intention of treatment is alleviation of pain and suffering; (5) standardized instruments, performance measurement, and care delivery aids are effective strategies for decreasing variability and improving palliative care in the complex ICU setting; and (6) comprehensive palliative care should addresses family and caregiver stress associated with caring for critically ill patients and anticipated suffering and loss.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1360-1369
Number of pages10
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2009


  • Critical care
  • End of life
  • Pain

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine
  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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