Purpose of review: To present the major pathophysiological and diagnostic features of critical illness myopathy (CIM) and polyneuropathy (CIP), and to discuss problems concerning the risk factors for CIM and CIP.
Recent findings: The pathophysiology of critical illness myopathy and critical illness polyneuropathy is complex, involving metabolic, inflammatory, and bioenergetic alterations. This review cites new evidence supporting several pathogenetic mechanisms. These include microvascular changes in peripheral nerves (with increased endothelial expression of E-selectin), the possible role for an altered lipid serum profile in promoting organ dysfunction (including nerve dysfunction), the damage or inhibition of complex I of the respiratory chain as a cause of muscle ATP depletion and bioenergetic failure, and the activation of specific intracellular proteolytic systems causing myofilament loss and apoptosis in CIM. The diagnostic role of direct muscle stimulation and the rapid quantification of myosin/actin ratio based on electrophoresis are also presented.
Summary: Basic and clinical research is unraveling the pathophysiological mechanisms of critical illness myopathy and polyneuropathy, and methods for rapid diagnosis are actively investigated. Future studies should better define the population at risk of developing CIM and CIP. In fact, although sepsis, multi-organ failure and steroids are often cited as risk factors, uncertainty remains due to the poor methodological quality of studies, or because of inferences that are exclusively based on animal studies. New simplified diagnostic techniques and machines for electrophysiological investigations of peripheral nerves and muscles in the intensive-care unit (ICU) patient would also be welcome.