Quality of life in adult survivors of critical illness: a systematic review of the literature

Intensive Care Med. 2005 May;31(5):611-20. doi: 10.1007/s00134-005-2592-6. Epub 2005 Apr 1.


Objective: To determine how the quality of life (QOL) of intensive care unit (ICU) survivors compares with the general population, changes over time, and is predicted by baseline characteristics.

Design: Systematic literature review including MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL and Cochrane Library. Eligible studies measured QOL > or = 30 days after ICU discharge using the Medical Outcomes Study 36-item Short Form (SF-36), EuroQol-5D, Sickness Impact Profile, or Nottingham Health Profile in representative populations of adult ICU survivors. Disease-specific studies were excluded.

Measurements and results: Of 8,894 citations identified, 21 independent studies with 7,320 patients were reviewed. Three of three studies found that ICU survivors had significantly lower QOL prior to admission than did a matched general population. During post-discharge follow-up, ICU survivors had significantly lower QOL scores than the general population in each SF-36 domain (except bodily pain) in at least four of seven studies. Over 1-12 months of follow-up, at least two of four studies found clinically meaningful improvement in each SF-36 domain except mental health and general health perceptions. A majority of studies found that age and severity of illness predicted physical functioning.

Conclusions: Compared with the general population, ICU survivors report lower QOL prior to ICU admission. After hospital discharge, QOL in ICU survivors improves but remains lower than general population levels. Age and severity of illness are predictors of physical functioning. This systematic review provides a general understanding of QOL following critical illness and can serve as a standard of comparison for QOL studies in specific ICU subpopulations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Critical Illness*
  • Health Status Indicators
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units*
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care*
  • Quality of Life*
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Survivors
  • United States