ICU stands for intensive care unit and is the place where patients are sent after an operation to stabilise and recover under supervision. ICU patients commonly have a very unique and strange post-operative experience.
ICU syndrome is a type of delirium where the patient experiences severe anxiety, fear, hallucinations or delusions. Although the cause has not been determined, it is likely related to post-op stress, the segregation and loneliness in the ICU room and confusion from coming out of anaesthesia. This is especially the case if an emergency situation led to the surgery being longer than expected or resulted in additional surgery, causing extreme confusion in the patient.
A patient suffering from ICU syndrome tends to be extremely excited and unstable. They may develop intense paranoia or distrust (especially against medical professionals), which can lead to fits or dangerous acts such as pulling out cannulas and lines. A friend or loved one talking calmly to the patient has a great effect in helping the patient overcome the delirium. Therefore, allowing the family to visit to keep the patient company and calm is an effective way to prevent ICU syndrome. However, if the situation spirals out of control, a sedative or anti-psychotic may need to be administered.
A study states that about 25% of patients admitted to the ICU suffer from ICU syndrome. It is one of the most common causes of delirium and any patient can get it (elderly patients are more likely to). Interestingly, there is a theory that medical professionals are more likely to suffer ICU syndrome after an operation.
Nowadays, the term ICU syndrome or ICU psychosis is discouraged and is instead grouped under delirium (which is an actual psychiatric disorder, not just a general term).