Use of a Behavioural Pain Scale to assess pain in ventilated, unconscious and/or sedated patients

Jeanne Young, Jo Siffleet, Sue Nikoletti, Thérèse Shaw
Intensive & Critical Care Nursing: the Official Journal of the British Association of Critical Care Nurses 2006, 22 (1): 32-9

UNLABELLED: Current empirical evidence supports claims that pain in sedated, unconscious Intensive Care Unit (ICU) patients is underrated and under-treated. Given the severity of ICU patients' illness pain management, whilst important, may not be considered a priority and therefore can be easily overlooked. The aim of this study was to validate the Behavioural Pain Scale (BPS) for the assessment of pain in critically ill patients by evaluating facial expressions, upper limb movements and compliance with mechanical ventilation.

METHODS: A prospective, descriptive repeated measures study design was used to assess the validity and reliability of the BPS for assessing pain in critically ill patients undergoing routine painful (repositioning) and non-painful (eye care) procedures.

RESULTS: An average of 73% of BPS scores increased (indicating pain) after patients were repositioned, as opposed to 14% after eye care. This increase was statistically significant for repositioning (p < 0.003) but not for eye care (p > 0.3). The odds of an increase in BPS between pre- and post-procedure assessments was more than 25 times higher for repositioning compared with eye care (p < 0.0001), after controlling for analgesics and sedatives.

CONCLUSION: The BPS was found to be a valid and reliable tool in the assessment of pain in the unconscious sedated patient. Results also highlighted that traditional pain indicators, such as fluctuations in haemodynamic parameters, are not always an accurate measure for the assessment of pain in unconscious patients and as such more objective pain assessment measures are essential. Finally, further validation of the BPS and identification of other painful routine procedures is needed to enhance pain management delivery for unconscious patients.

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