Background Anxiety is difficult to detect in patients receiving mechanical ventilation because clinical signs are confounded and patients often cannot respond to validated anxiety measures. Most patients can respond to the single-item Faces Anxiety Scale.

Objectives To assess the validity of the Faces Anxiety Scale, the frequency and severity of state anxiety, and correlates of anxiety in intensive care patients.

Methods A research assistant made a single clinical judgment of anxiety in the range of 1 to 10 on the basis of patients’ nonverbal responses (ie, nods) to 9 questions about mood and their physical and behavioral signs. Patients then responded to the Faces Anxiety Scale. Demographic, clinical, and pharmacological data were obtained from the patients’ charts.

Results Mean age of the 106 patients was 61 years; 62% were men. Admission diagnoses were cardiovascular in 26% of patients, respiratory in 26%, trauma in 18%, neurological in 12%, gastrointestinal in 12%, and other in 6%. At the time of anxiety assessment, 89% were receiving mechanical ventilation. The correlation between patients’ self-reports of anxiety on the Anxiety Faces Scale and the research assistant’s assessments was 0.64 (P < .001). Some anxiety was reported by 85% of patients (mean level 2.9; SD 1.2). Anxiety levels were lower in patients who had recently received sedatives or opioids but were not related to heart rate or blood pressure.

Conclusions The Faces Anxiety Scale is a valid means of measuring anxiety in intensive care patients. Anxiety is common in these patients and is often moderate to severe.

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