Intensive care unit syndrome: A dangerous misnomer

Brian E. McGuire, Christopher J. Basten*, Christopher J. Ryan, John Gallagher

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

130 Citations (Scopus)


The terms intensive care unit (ICU) syndrome and ICU psychosis have been used interchangeably to describe a cluster of psychiatric symptoms that are unique to the ICU environment. It is often postulated that aspects of the ICU, such as sleep deprivation and sensory overload or monotony, are causes of the syndrome. This article reviews the empirical support for these propositions. We conclude that ICU syndrome does not differ from delirium and that ICU syndrome is caused exclusively by organic stressors on the central nervous system. We argue further that the term ICU syndrome is dangerous because it impedes standardized communication and research and may reduce the vigilance necessary to promptly investigate and reverse the medical cause of the delirium. Directions for future research are suggested.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)906-909
Number of pages4
JournalArchives of Internal Medicine
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 10 Apr 2000
Externally publishedYes

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