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Outcomes of ICU Care


Most patients will recover from a serious illness when admitted to the ICU, especially if they have had a short stay.

However, if your loved one is in the ICU for some time (more than 1-2 weeks), they may leave the hospital much weaker than they were before you became ill. They may also have problems thinking or concentrating. In addition, up to half of ICU survivors who have had a long stay will have significant depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder in the months that follow illness.

 Without intensive care, most seriously ill patients with organ failure will die. However, even with intensive care, some patients will die from their serious illness. On average, about 20% of ICU patients will die and 80% will survive and leave the hospital.

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This survival rate can be higher or lower, depending on specific cases – for example, if your loved one has a severe infection, they will have a much lower survival rate. If they are in the ICU to recover from major surgery, they will have a much better survival rate. Age can also make a difference. These statistics are meant to give you an overall idea of the outcomes of ICU when considering groups of patients. It is best to talk to your family member’s doctor to get a better sense of your loved one’s individual probability of survival.


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Overall Risks and Benefits of ICU care:


  • If your loved one is very ill, there is a greater chance of survival in the ICU than with other types of medical care
  • If your loved one is in the ICU on machines for only a short period of time, they will likely fully recover and get back to their baseline health


  • Your loved one may be in more pain and discomfort because of the machines used
  • Your loved one may not be able to speak or interact with you or other visitors.
  • If they are in the ICU on machines for a long time, like more than one week, they might end up very weak and not as mentally aware
  • Your loved one may only be delaying death and their death may not end up being very natural or dignified.


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Is ICU right for your loved one?

Most people who pick ICU care have fixable medical problems along with a reasonably high level of function or quality of life and are willing to accept the burdens or risks of ICU treatment. Because the negative consequences of ICU care happen mostly after a prolonged ICU stay (>7 days), some people would be willing to undergo ICU care on the ‘short-term’ (less than a week in most instances).  It’s like a ‘trial of ICU treatments’ to see if they will get better quickly and can recover back to their baseline function and quality of life. If not, if their illness turns into a prolonged ICU stay, they are unwilling to accept the risks or burdens of ICU care and prefer to have their goals of care change to focus on comfort measures only. In that instance, ICU treatments may be withdrawn or withheld. 


 For more information on ICU care, check out this brief youtube video: 


For more information on how patients from who survive ICU care can leave worse off: