Post Intensive Care Syndrome (PICS)

Muscle weakness, memory problems, depression, insomnia, physical pain, nightmares. These are just a few examples of the problems that patients may experience following critical illness. Symptoms such as these which affect emotional, physical, and cognitive health are now being recognized as Post Intensive Care Syndrome, or PICS. Efforts to educate health care providers, patients, and families about Post Intensive Care Syndrome are underway. Explore our site to learn more about PICS.

Jan 18, 2018

Breaking it Down: What exactly is Post Intensive Care Syndrome?

By Annie, Mayo ICU Nurse Practitioner, @andreab


Every year, thousands of people across the country experience critical illness and/or injury. As our population ages, and technology advances, this number is expected to grow. In 2012, a collaborative group of experts through the Society of Critical Care Medicine came together to discuss the difficulties that were commonly seen in patients who had experienced critical illness and/or injury. The syndrome was officially recognized and the term "Post-Intensive Care Syndrome" or "PICS" was born.

What it is

Overall, PICS is relatively simple in that it is new or worsening health problems after a stay in the ICU. These health problems can affect the body, mind, and/or emotions and often present after the patient has been discharged from the hospital. These problems may last anywhere from a few weeks, to months, and in some cases even years.

Every year, thousands of people across the nation experience critical illness and/or injury

People with PICS often experience the following:

  • Body: Tiredness, weakness, pain
  • Mind: Forgetfulness, confusion, decreased concentration
  • Emotions: Depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances, flashbacks, and nightmares

People recovering from critical illness or injury will often experience new physical difficulties. It may be difficult to walk up a flight of stairs, walk out to the mailbox, or even just get around the house. Many people find great difficulty in previous activities such as driving a vehicle. It is not uncommon for people to experience a delay in returning to work or school, and in some cases that return is impossible.

Cognitive changes (or changes to one's mind) such as forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating, are also experienced by people who have been critically ill/injured. People report difficulty with word finding making communication much more difficult than it had previously been.  Unlike physical weakness and debility, problems with one's mind are not so readily recognized by others, making this even more of a burden on those experiencing it. It is not uncommon for the person affected by cognitive changes to try to hide these problems.

The emotional affects of critical illness/injury can be long lasting. Often the illness and/or injury itself that resulted in an ICU stay creates anxiety. There is worry about the illness coming back or the injury happening again. A stay in the ICU is often the very first time that people are faced with the reality of just how fragile life can be. Depression, sleep disturbances, and vivid nightmares are also reported.

Stay tuned to next month's blog to learn about risk factors for the development of Post-Intensive Care Syndrome.

In the meantime, join our conversation online. Have you or a loved one experienced critical illness/injury? You're not alone. Share your story and connect with others who have been on the same journey:

Post-Intensive Care Syndrome (PICS) - Let's Talk



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