Critically ill patients can develop profound weakness while in the ICU. It isn’t entirely clear why ICU patients seem to be at such high risk for acquired physical impairment (API) but inflammation, immobility, and the severity of a patient’s illness are probably very important factors. API contributes to prolonged need for mechanical ventilation, increased ICU and hospital length of stay, and can cause long term weakness, disability and decreased quality of life for ICU survivors.
The problem isn’t small. Up to 50% of patients develop significant weakness after their ICU stay. This weakness can last for years and prevents patients from returning to their normal activities. In follow up studies from surgical, medical, and trauma ICUs survivors of critical illness report having difficulty returning to work, lacking the energy and endurance they need to pursue their usual activities, and experiencing a reduced quality of life — all related to the weakness they developed while being in the ICU.
Patients expect an outcome from their illness that goes beyond surviving a disease or injury. They want to return to the life they led before they were admitted to the ICU. This requires strength, endurance, and the ability to move free from pain.