Measuring thirst distress of patients in the intensive care unit

Marleen Flim, José Hofhuis, Peter Spronk, Tiny Jaarsma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


BACKGROUND: Thirst is one of the most intense and distressing symptoms experienced by patients in the intensive care unit (ICU), and no validated measurement tools exist. Validating a thirst measurement tool for the ICU population could be a first step in gaining a better understanding of thirst in ICU patients and aid the development and implementation of strategies regarding the prevention and control of thirst.

AIM: The objective of this study was to determine the validity and reliability of the "Thirst distress scale for patients with heart failure (TDS-HF)" in measuring thirst distress in adult ICU patients.

METHODS: Content validity was established by an expert panel consisting of ICU nurses, intensivists and five ICU patients. Concurrent validity, known-groups validity and internal consistency were determined in a consecutive sample of 56 awake and oriented ICU patients with a median age of 70 years (IQR: 57-74).

RESULTS: Content validity of the TDS-HF in the ICU population was low, with item-content validity indexes between 0.25 and 0.75. Concurrent validity was high as Spearman's correlation between TDS-HF and the numeric rating score (0-10) for thirst distress was 0.71. Internal consistency was high (Cronbach's alpha 0.78). When comparing groups, only higher blood urea nitrogen was significantly related to higher scores on the TDS-HF (P = .003).

CONCLUSION: The TDS-HF has high concurrent validity and reliability in measuring thirst distress in ICU patients. Nevertheless, questions remain regarding the applicability and content validity of the scale, which should be further explored before the TDS-HF can be used in the ICU.

RELEVANCE FOR CLINICAL PRACTICE: The TDS-HF can be used to explore thirst distress and to evaluate interventions. Individual items of the scale can be used to explore the nature of thirst distress in individual patients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)576-582
Number of pages7
JournalNursing in critical care
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2022


  • clinimetrics
  • intensive care
  • measurement tool
  • symptom
  • thirst


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