Self-report is the best indicator of pain; however, pain is more difficult to assess in noncommunicative patients who may be receiving mechanical ventilation or sedated and unable to report pain.


To evaluate the validity and sensitivity of 6 pain scales (Adult Nonverbal Pain Scale; Behavior Pain Scale [BPS]; Comfort Scale; FACES; Face, Legs, Activity, Cry, and Consolability scale; Pain Assessment Behavioral Scale with Numeric Rating Scale [NRP]) to identify the best measure of pain in noncommunicative patients.


Fifty communicative and 100 noncommunicative patients receiving mechanical ventilation were observed before and during routine physical examination and endotracheal tube suctioning.


All pain scales had moderate to high correlations with the patient’s self-report during suctioning. The FACES score reported by the patient had the highest correlation with the patient’s NRP score (r = 0.76, P < .001) during suctioning; associations between the BPS and NRP scores during physical examination were the weakest (r = 0.21, P = .20). All scales were sensitive in capturing the patient’s pain response in all phases (P < .001); sensitivity was higher during suctioning (P < .001). Both participants and investigators rated pain higher on the FACES scale.


These pain scales commonly used in noncommunicative critically ill adult patients are valid and sensitive for capturing changes in pain response during suctioning in both communicative and noncommunicative patients. However, caution must be used when using the FACES scale because subjectivity may lead to overtreatment or undertreatment of pain.

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