Critically ill patients' experience of agitation: A qualitative meta-synthesis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Downloads (Pure)


BACKGROUND: Acute episodes of agitation are frequently experienced by patients during critical illness, yet what is not understood is the experience of agitation from the patient and family perspectives.

AIMS AND OBJECTIVES: To search existing literature, appraise it and then provide a synthesized interpretation to broaden the understanding of patients' and their families' experience of agitation during an adult critical care admission.

DESIGN: Qualitative meta-synthesis.

METHODS: A qualitative meta-synthesis based on a systematic literature search registered with PROSPERO. The search conducted between July and September 2019 was applied to ProQuest, Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health, British Nursing Index, Cochrane Library, Ovid Medline, Web of Science, and PsycINFO databases. We appraised the selected literature and presented a synthesized interpretation. Analysis was based on the approach of Gadamerian hermeneutics. Due to the lack of data identified; the family experiences of agitation could not be addressed within the review.

RESULTS: In total, 8 studies were included capturing the experiences of 494 patients, aged between 18 and 92 years, with 225 (45%) women. The analysis generated three core themes: (a) What is real, what is not, (b) loss of communication and dependency, and (c) what helps, what does not. Fear of death, the emotion of anxiety, and feelings of pain alongside transient periods of fluctuating conscious levels provoked a feeling of intense vulnerability. The loss of effective communication and the feeling of dependence incite agitation and distress.

CONCLUSIONS: The patient's recollection of their critical illness can be completely or partially absent and disjointed with uncertainty around what is real and what is not. Family members observe the full effect of the patient's critical care illness and could be a wealth of untapped information.

RELEVANCE TO CLINICAL PRACTICE: Increasing awareness of the critically ill patients' experience of agitation highlights possible contributing factors to agitation development, such as staff interaction and communication skills, and the critical care environment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)91-105
Number of pages15
JournalNursing in critical care
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 4 May 2021


  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Anxiety
  • Communication
  • Critical Care
  • Critical Illness
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Phobic Disorders
  • Qualitative Research
  • Young Adult


Dive into the research topics of 'Critically ill patients' experience of agitation: A qualitative meta-synthesis'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this