The intensive care unit environment exposes patients to stressful conditions contributing to distressing symptoms. Discomfort is an infrequently and inconsistently described symptom experienced by intensive care unit patients.


To complete a narrative literature review to summarize the currently available literature on discomfort assessment in critical care practice and identify knowledge gaps to direct future intervention research.


A review of the currently available literature was guided by Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses. No parameters were set for publication years or specific study designs. Inclusion criteria were patients aged at least 18 years, description of patient reports of discomfort in the intensive care unit, and English language.


This narrative review includes 10 studies that used 4 distinct self-reported, discomfort-related symptom assessment instruments. Two studies assessed overall discomfort. Only 1 assessment instrument, Inconforts des Patients de Reanimation, is validated for use in the intensive care unit.


The reviewed literature highlights the current gap in discomfort symptom assessment during the intensive care unit stay. An assessment instrument specific for intensive care unit–related discomfort, such as the Inconforts des Patients de Reanimation, would allow for prompt recognition and mitigation of intensive care unit–related patient discomfort.

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