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After a stay in ICU
After a stay in ICU


A man sitting in hospital waiting to be picked up

What problems could I have after my stay?

It takes time to get better from a serious illness. As you get better, you may notice these symptoms: Body
  • Muscle weakness
  • Breathlessness
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Feeling tired quickly
  • Feeling sad
  • Feeling worried
  • Memory problems
  • Nightmares
You might be told you have Post-Intensive Care Syndrome. Post-Intensive Care Syndrome is a group of symptoms that you can have after staying in intensive care, which could affect your body or your mind. If you are told by a healthcare professional that you have Post-Intensive Care Syndrome:
  • Do not worry as things will get better but it may take time to get back to normal
  • It might take weeks or months to get better
  • You should take your time when getting back to your daily activities
Your family and friends may be affected by your time in intensive care too. Find more advice and support for family and friends here. Return to Top

Your feelings and emotions after intensive care

Why do I feel anxious or low?

When you leave intensive care, it can take time to adjust. You may feel worried and some people may feel low when they get home from hospital. This could be because:
  • It takes a long time to get better
  • You cannot do all the things you want to do
  • You may find it harder to do your usual exercise or get enough sleep
If you were seriously ill with COVID you might:
  • Worry about your health
  • Think you will be unwell again
  • Worry that people think that you could infect them or infect others

Learn more about:

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What is confusion delirium?

In the Intensive Care Unit, you may be given sedatives to help you sleep and to keep you safe when you are seriously ill. Sometimes sedatives can make you see or hear things that are not real which can make you feel scared or lonely. This is called confusion delirium. It is normal for delirium to go when you start to feel better, but this means it might take time for you to work out what was real and what was not real when you stayed at an Intensive Care Unit. If you had COVID it is possible your family and friends could not visit you at hospital. The Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) could have made it difficult for you to get to know healthcare workers, who were looking after you, because you could not see their faces. To help you work out what happened when you stayed in the Intensive Care Unit you might want to:
  • Talk to a healthcare professional about how you felt and what you remember
  • Ask the Intensive Care Unit if a patient diary was kept for you – if so, you can ask to review this with a healthcare professional at an Intensive Care Unit follow-up clinic
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What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder caused by very stressful, frightening, or distressing events. An Intensive Care Unit stay can be stressful especially if you needed a machine called a ventilator to help you breathe. When you think about your stay at an Intensive Care Unit you might:
  • Get anxious
  • Have bad memories or even nightmares
  • Have problems sleeping
  • Feel stressed
  • Anger/irritability
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When should I get professional help?

It is normal to experience upsetting and confusing thoughts after a traumatic event, but most people improve naturally over a few weeks. If you have any negative feelings or bad memories, you might want to speak to people you trust, such as your family and friends. If your symptoms get worse, or you are still having problems about 4 weeks after the event, you should see your healthcare professional at your Intensive Care Unit follow-up appointment. Learn more about: Return to Top

Your body after critical illness

Why am I breathless?

Breathlessness is common after a serious illness and after a COVID infection because the virus affects your lungs. If you are on a ventilator for a long time, this can weaken the muscles that help you breath and it will take time for them to get better and  stronger. When you no longer need the ventilator, you might notice that you get out of breath much more than you did before you had COVID. This can be scary, but you should try to keep calm to stop you getting more breathless. As you get better your breathing should get better too, but your healthcare professional could give you a check up and tell you if you have any other problems. They might advise you to:
  • Go on an exercise programme
  • See a respiratory physiotherapist

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Why do I feel weak?

If you find it difficult to get out of bed your muscles may be weak. This could make it difficult to do some of the things you did before you had COVID, such as daily activities, exercise and work. Your physiotherapist may suggest exercises you could do or an exercise programme, which will help your muscles to get back to their usual strength. If you find it difficult to do daily activities your GP can refer you to the right healthcare professional for support. Learn more about: Return to Top

What is fatigue?

After staying at an Intensive Care Unit with COVID, you might feel very tired for a long time. This is called fatigue. Fatigue means:
  • You still feel tired even after a good night’s sleep
  • You find daily activities difficult to do
  • You may feel low
  • You may find it difficult to focus and remember things
Fatigue is common after a virus like the flu or cold and usually goes after two or three weeks but could last for months. The same thing happens after you have COVID. A lot of people get better quickly but some people feel very tired for three to six months. Learn more about: Return to Top

Why do I have more aches and pains?

You may feel pain and stiffness in your joints, which should get better when you start to move again. This could be because you spent a long time in the same position during your stay at an Intensive Care Unit, to help your oxygen levels, which can cause pain and stiffness in your arms and shoulders. Speak to your GP if:
  • You are in pain
  • You find it hard to use your arms
  • You have pins and needles, which is a tingling feeling, in your arms
Your GP can refer you to a physiotherapist who can help you with your aches and pains.

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Why do I have scars on my body?

You may notice some scars on your neck, arms, chest or groin. These are usually from a small tube which gives you medication or connects you to equipment that help your breathing. You may also get other scars from the pressure of being in the same position on a hospital bed for long time. Return to Top

Why is my hair falling out?

It is common for hair to become thinner or fall out after a stay at an Intensive Care Unit. This may be caused by the medicine you took or because you were very unwell. Your hair usually grows back but it can take a few months and may be thinner or a different colour. Return to Top

Why is it difficult to swallow?

If you go into an Intensive Care Unit, you will usually have a tube put into your windpipe which is connected to a ventilator to support your breathing. The windpipe is part of your throat that connects to your lungs. This can affect the muscles that you use to swallow safely, so when you eat or drink you may cough or choke. Your swallowing should get better before you leave hospital and go home. If you are still having problems swallowing, or you are coughing when you eat and drink your GP can refer you to a Speech and Language Therapist.

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Why is my voice weak?

If you had a tube in your throat to help you to breathe, it would have gone through your vocal cords. This can affect the quality and sound of your voice. Your voice should go back to normal after weeks or months. If you are having any problems with your voice, you should let your GP know and they can refer you to a Speech and Language Therapist.

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What is a tracheostomy, and why would I have one?

A tracheostomy is a small tube that goes into your windpipe through a small hole in your neck. The tube is often attached to a ventilator when you need support to breath for a long time. You may get a small scar on your neck where the tracheostomy was placed which should fade over time. Return to Top

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