Introduction: It has been proposed that intensive care unit (ICU)-acquired weakness (ICUAW) should be assessed using the sum of manual muscle strength test scores in 12 muscle groups (the sum score). This approach has been tested in patients with Guillain-Barré syndrome, yet little is known about the feasibility or test characteristics in other critically ill patients. We studied the feasibility and interobserver agreement of this sum score in a mixed cohort of critically ill and injured patients.
Methods: We enrolled patients requiring more than 3 days of mechanical ventilation. Two observers performed systematic strength assessments of each patient. The primary outcome measure was interobserver agreement of weakness as a binary outcome (ICUAW is sum score less than 48; "no ICUAW" is a sum score greater than or equal to 48) using the Cohen's kappa statistic.
Results: We identified 135 patients who met the inclusion criteria. Most were precluded from study participation by altered mental status or polytrauma. Thirty-four participants were enrolled, and 30 of these individuals completed assessments conducted by both observers. Six met the criteria for ICUAW recorded by at least one observer. The observers agreed on the diagnosis of ICUAW for 93% of participants (Cohen's kappa = 0.76; 95% confidence interval (CI), 0.44 to 1.0). Observer agreement was fair in the ICU (Cohen's kappa = 0.38), and agreement was perfect after ICU discharge (Cohen's kappa = 1.0). Absolute values of sum scores were similar between observers (intraclass correlation coefficient 0.83; 95% CI, 0.67 to 0.91), but they differed between observers by six points or more for 23% of the participants.
Conclusions: Manual muscle testing (MMT) during critical illness was not possible for most patients because of coma, delirium and/or injury. Among patients who were able to participate in testing, we found that interobserver agreement regarding ICUAW was good, particularly when evaluated after ICU discharge. MMT is insufficient for early detection of ICU-acquired neuromuscular dysfunction in most patients and may be unreliable during critical illness.