Muscle atrophy in critically ill patients : a review of its cause, evaluation, and prevention

J Med Invest. 2020;67(1.2):1-10. doi: 10.2152/jmi.67.1.


Critically ill patients exhibit prominent muscle atrophy, which occurs rapidly after ICU admission and leads to poor clinical outcomes. The extent of atrophy differs among muscles as follows: upper limb: 0.7%-2.4% per day, lower limb: 1.2%-3.0% per day, and diaphragm 1.1%-10.9% per day. This atrophy is caused by numerous risk factors such as inflammation, immobilization, nutrition, hyperglycemia, medication, and mechanical ventilation. Muscle atrophy should be monitored noninvasively by ultrasound at the bedside. Ultrasound can assess muscle mass in most patients, although physical assessment is limited to almost half of all critically ill patients due to impaired consciousness. Important strategies to prevent muscle atrophy are physical therapy and electrical muscular stimulation. Electrical muscular stimulation is especially effective for patients with limited physical therapy. Regarding diaphragm atrophy, mechanical ventilation should be adjusted to maintain spontaneous breathing and titrate inspiratory pressure. However, the sufficient timing and amount of nutritional intervention remain unclear. Further investigation is necessary to prevent muscle atrophy and improve long-term outcomes. J. Med. Invest. 67 : 1-10, February, 2020.

Keywords: diaphragm; electrical muscular stimulation; muscle atrophy; physical therapy; ultrasound.