An official American Thoracic Society Clinical Practice guideline: the diagnosis of intensive care unit-acquired weakness in adults

Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2014 Dec 15;190(12):1437-46. doi: 10.1164/rccm.201411-2011ST.


Rationale: Profound muscle weakness during and after critical illness is termed intensive care unit-acquired weakness (ICUAW).

Objectives: To develop diagnostic recommendations for ICUAW.

Methods: A multidisciplinary expert committee generated diagnostic questions. A systematic review was performed, and recommendations were developed using the Grading, Recommendations, Assessment, Development, and Evaluation (GRADE) approach.

Measurement and main results: Severe sepsis, difficult ventilator liberation, and prolonged mechanical ventilation are associated with ICUAW. Physical rehabilitation improves outcomes in heterogeneous populations of ICU patients. Because it may not be feasible to provide universal physical rehabilitation, an alternative approach is to identify patients most likely to benefit. Patients with ICUAW may be such a group. Our review identified only one case series of patients with ICUAW who received physical therapy. When compared with a case series of patients with ICUAW who did not receive structured physical therapy, evidence suggested those who receive physical rehabilitation were more frequently discharged home rather than to a rehabilitative facility, although confidence intervals included no difference. Other interventions show promise, but fewer data proving patient benefit existed, thus precluding specific comment. Additionally, prior comorbidity was insufficiently defined to determine its influence on outcome, treatment response, or patient preferences for diagnostic efforts. We recommend controlled clinical trials in patients with ICUAW that compare physical rehabilitation with usual care and further research in understanding risk and patient preferences.

Conclusions: Research that identifies treatments that benefit patients with ICUAW is necessary to determine whether the benefits of diagnostic testing for ICUAW outweigh its burdens.

Keywords: critical care; critical illness myoneuropathy; critical illness myopathy; critical illness polyneuropathy; definitions; diagnosis; intensive care unit–acquired weakness.

Publication types

  • Practice Guideline

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Critical Care
  • Electromyography
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units*
  • Muscle Weakness / diagnosis*
  • Muscle Weakness / etiology
  • Muscle Weakness / therapy
  • Neural Conduction / physiology
  • Physical Therapy Modalities