Assessment and management of iatrogenic withdrawal syndrome and delirium in pediatric intensive care units across Europe: An ESPNIC survey

Pharmacotherapy. 2023 Aug;43(8):804-815. doi: 10.1002/phar.2831. Epub 2023 Jun 12.


Introduction: Analgesia and sedation are essential for the care of children in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU); however, when prolonged, they may be associated with iatrogenic withdrawal syndrome (IWS) and delirium. We sought to evaluate current practices on IWS and delirium assessment and management (including non-pharmacologic strategies as early mobilization) and to investigate associations between the presence of an analgosedation protocol and IWS and delirium monitoring, analgosedation weaning, and early mobilization.

Methods: We conducted a multicenter cross-sectional survey-based study collecting data from one experienced physician or nurse per PICU in Europe from January to April 2021. We then investigated differences among PICUs that did or did not follow an analgosedation protocol.

Results: Among 357 PICUs, 215 (60%) responded across 27 countries. IWS was systematically monitored with a validated scale in 62% of PICUs, mostly using the Withdrawal Assessment Tool-1 (53%). The main first-line treatment for IWS was a rescue bolus with interruption of weaning (41%). Delirium was systematically monitored in 58% of PICUs, mostly with the Cornell Assessment of Pediatric Delirium scale (48%) and the Sophia Observation Scale for Pediatric Delirium (34%). The main reported first-line treatment for delirium was dexmedetomidine (45%) or antipsychotic drugs (40%). Seventy-one percent of PICUs reported to follow an analgosedation protocol. Multivariate analyses adjusted for PICU characteristics showed that PICUs using a protocol were significantly more likely to systematically monitor IWS (odds ratio [OR] 1.92, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.01-3.67) and delirium (OR 2.00, 95% CI 1.07-3.72), use a protocol for analgosedation weaning (OR 6.38, 95% CI 3.20-12.71) and promote mobilization (OR 3.38, 95% CI 1.63-7.03).

Conclusions: Monitoring and management of IWS and delirium are highly variable among European PICUs. The use of an analgosedation protocol was associated with an increased likelihood of monitoring IWS and delirium, performing a structured analgosedation weaning and promoting mobilization. Education on this topic and interprofessional collaborations are highly needed to help reduce the burden of analgosedation-associated adverse outcomes.

Keywords: delirium; iatrogenic withdrawal syndrome; mobilization; pediatric intensive care unit; protocol; sedation.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Delirium* / diagnosis
  • Delirium* / epidemiology
  • Delirium* / etiology
  • Europe / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Iatrogenic Disease
  • Intensive Care Units
  • Intensive Care Units, Pediatric
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome* / diagnosis
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome* / epidemiology
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome* / therapy