Critical Care Illness

Critical illness polyneuropathy (CIP) and critical illness myopathy (CIM) are overlapping syndromes of diffuse, symmetric, flaccid muscle weakness occurring in critically ill patients and involving all extremities and the diaphragm with relative sparing of the cranial nerves.

 People with CIP/CIM have diffuse, symmetric, flaccid muscle weakness. CIP/CIM typically develops in the setting of a critical illness and immobilization, so patients with CIP/CIM are often receiving treatment in the intensive care unit (ICU).

Weakness (motor deficits) occurs in generalized fashion, rather than beginning in one region of the body and spreading. Limb and respiratory (diaphragm) muscles are especially affected. The muscles of the face are usually spared, but in rare cases, the eye muscles may be weakened, leading to ophthalmoplegia.

Respiratory difficulties can be caused by atrophy of the muscles between the ribs (intercostals), atrophy of the diaphragm muscle, and degeneration of the nerve that stimulates the diaphragm (phrenic nerve).

This can prolong the time the wean a person off of a breathing machine (mechanical ventilation) by as much as 7 – 13 days.

Deep tendon reflexes may be lost or diminished, and there may be bilateral symmetric flaccid paralysis of the arms and legs. The nervous system manifestations are typically limited to peripheral nerves, as the central nervous system is usually unaffected.