To identify and synthesize available recommendations from scientific societies and experts on pain management at the end-of-life in the ICU.
We conducted a systematic review of PubMed, EMBASE, the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, and Biblioteca Virtual en Salud from their inception until March 28, 2019.
We included all clinical practice guidelines, consensus statements, and benchmarks for quality.
Study selection, methodological quality, and data extraction were performed independently by two investigators. A quality assessment was performed by four investigators using the Appraisal of Guidelines for Research and Evaluation II instrument. The recommendations were then synthesized and categorized.
Ten publications were included. The Appraisal of Guidelines for Research and Evaluation II statement showed low scores in various quality domains, especially in the applicability and rigor of development. Most documents were in agreement on five topics: 1) using a quantitative tool for pain assessment; 2) administering narcotics for pain relief and benzodiazepines for anxiety relief; 3) against prescribing neuromuscular blockers during withdrawal of life support to assess pain; 4) endorsing the use of high doses of opioids and sedatives for pain control, regardless of the risk that they will hasten death; and 5) using quality indicators to improve pain management during end-of-life in the ICU.
In spite of the lack of high-quality evidence, recommendations for pain management at the end-of-life in the ICU are homogeneous and are justified by ethical principles and agreement among experts. Considering the growing demand for the involvement of palliative care teams in the management of the dying patients in the ICU, there is a need to clearly define their early involvement and to further develop comprehensive evidence-based pain management strategies. Based on the study findings, we propose a management algorithm to improve the overall care of dying critically ill patients.