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Year : 2017  |  Volume : 63  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 147-148

Muscle mass changes in the critically ill patient: The role of imaging

Department of Radiology, University Hospital of Patras, Patras, Greece

Date of Web Publication10-Jul-2017

Correspondence Address:
P Kraniotis
Department of Radiology, University Hospital of Patras, Patras
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/jpgm.JPGM_759_16

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How to cite this article:
Kraniotis P. Muscle mass changes in the critically ill patient: The role of imaging. J Postgrad Med 2017;63:147-8

How to cite this URL:
Kraniotis P. Muscle mass changes in the critically ill patient: The role of imaging. J Postgrad Med [serial online] 2017 [cited 2023 Sep 26];63:147-8. Available from:

Intensive Care Unit-acquired weakness (ICU-AW) represents a very common problem for the critically ill patient with implications in morbidity, mortality, and quality of life.[1] Clinical diagnosis is based on the Medical Research Council sum score, but this requires patient's cooperation. Moreover, ICU-AW may be masked by fluid retention. In such cases, normal anthropometric methods fall short in evaluating body mass changes. In vitro neutron activation analysis and repeat muscle biopsies can demonstrate changes in muscle mass.[2] However, these tests may be time-consuming, invasive, costly, or not available.[3] Hence, they are only useful for research purposes. To assess muscle atrophy, a simple, clinically applicable, reproducible, and noninvasive method is required. It is well known that rectus femoris cross-sectional area has a strong association with muscle volume [4],[5] and strength.[6],[7] As direct strength assessment may not be possible in the critically ill, the established association between muscle strength and muscle thickness of the quadriceps femoris muscle has been used.[8]

Among the noninvasive means for assessing muscle atrophy in ICU patients, imaging may play a pivotal role. Regarding the assessment of muscle volume, computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are regarded modalities of choice as they are objective and reproducible. Both methods have been used for the evaluation of the physiological muscle morphology in lower limb muscles; they have demonstrated muscle wasting in ICU patients with muscle volume decrease in the quadriceps femoris muscle and in abdominal muscles.[5],[9],[10],[11],[12] However, in these patients, the role of CT and MRI is limited as there is need to transfer patients, to either the CT or MRI suite. Moreover, radiation exposure may pose an additional concern in CT. MRI is limited by longer scanning times and the need for MRI-compatible patient monitoring equipment.

The use of ultrasonography, in the ICU, may be tempting as it is readily available, portable to patient's bedside, and not costly. It can thus play a key role in the detection of muscle changes in ICU patients.

Ultrasonographic measurements in ICU patients have been used in both upper and lower limb muscles and have reliably shown reduced muscle size and increased echogenicity signifying muscle quality decline.[13],[14],[15] Ultrasonography has been tested against the gold standards of CT and MRI, for measuring muscle dimensions, and is found to be adequately precise for the evaluation of muscle volume changes.[16] Nevertheless, ultrasonography is operator dependent and may be susceptible to suboptimal technique and interobserver errors. It also requires that operators adhere to a strict imaging protocol.

In conclusion, ultrasonography is a valid and practical measurement tool for assessing muscle mass in the ICU and thus very useful for monitoring ICU-AW and critical illness myopathy.

Therefore, it is important to have studies like the one featured in this volume “Inter- and intra-observer variability of ultrasonographic arm muscle thickness measurement by critical care physicians.”[17] It is significant for similar studies to compare interobserver agreement in ultrasonographic measurements both in the upper and lower limbs. Muscle cross-sectional area measurements would probably provide more accurate results, than two-dimensional measurements of muscle thickness alone, but this may be too complex to apply in daily clinical practice. Repeat serial measurements are also very important for more accurate assessment of muscle mass changes.

To have more consistent and comparable results between different studies, the ultrasonographic technique must be standardized and easily reproducible among different observers and institutions. In this way, anatomical distortion and artifactual measurement errors due to suboptimal technique may be avoided.

In addition, the nonradiologist personnel, medical or paramedical, participating in those studies should have adequate training and local accreditation, concerning the ultrasonographic technique. Accreditation and training must be standardized across institutions. Furthermore, it is imperative that interobserver agreement is confirmed with studies against qualified radiologists. Finally, larger patient series would probably improve the impact of study results.

 :: References Top

Sharshar T, Bastuji-Garin S, Stevens RD, Durand MC, Malissin I, Rodriguez P, et al . Presence and severity of Intensive Care Unit-acquired paresis at time of awakening are associated with increased Intensive Care Unit and hospital mortality. Crit Care Med 2009;37:3047-53.  Back to cited text no. 1
Helliwell TR, Wilkinson A, Griffiths RD, McClelland P, Palmer TE, Bone JM. Muscle fibre atrophy in critically ill patients is associated with the loss of myosin filaments and the presence of lysosomal enzymes and ubiquitin. Neuropathol Appl Neurobiol 1998;24:507-17.  Back to cited text no. 2
Fan E, Cheek F, Chlan L, Gosselink R, Hart N, Herridge MS, et al . 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;190:1437-46.  Back to cited text no. 3
Mathur S, Takai KP, Macintyre DL, Reid D. Estimation of thigh muscle mass with magnetic resonance imaging in older adults and people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Phys Ther 2008;88:219-30.  Back to cited text no. 4
Walton JM, Roberts N, Whitehouse GH. Measurement of the quadriceps femoris muscle using magnetic resonance and ultrasound imaging. Br J Sports Med 1997;31:59-64.  Back to cited text no. 5
de Bruin PF, Ueki J, Watson A, Pride NB. Size and strength of the respiratory and quadriceps muscles in patients with chronic asthma. Eur Respir J 1997;10:59-64.  Back to cited text no. 6
Seymour JM, Ward K, Sidhu PS, Puthucheary Z, Steier J, Jolley CJ, et al . Ultrasound measurement of rectus femoris cross-sectional area and the relationship with quadriceps strength in COPD. Thorax 2009;64:418-23.  Back to cited text no. 7
Chi-Fishman G, Hicks JE, Cintas HM, Sonies BC, Gerber LH. Ultrasound imaging distinguishes between normal and weak muscle. Arch Phys Med Rehabil 2004;85:980-6.  Back to cited text no. 8
Dupont AC, Sauerbrei EE, Fenton PV, Shragge PC, Loeb GE, Richmond FJ. Real-time sonography to estimate muscle thickness: Comparison with MRI and CT. J Clin Ultrasound 2001;29:230-6.  Back to cited text no. 9
Juul-Kristensen B, Bojsen-Møller F, Holst E, Ekdahl C. Comparison of muscle sizes and moment arms of two rotator cuff muscles measured by ultrasonography and magnetic resonance imaging. Eur J Ultrasound 2000;11:161-73.  Back to cited text no. 10
Poulsen JB, Møller K, Jensen CV, Weisdorf S, Kehlet H, Perner A. Effect of transcutaneous electrical muscle stimulation on muscle volume in patients with septic shock. Crit Care Med 2011;39:456-61.  Back to cited text no. 11
Weijs PJ, Looijaard WG, Dekker IM, Stapel SN, Girbes AR, Oudemans-van Straaten HM, et al . Low skeletal muscle area is a risk factor for mortality in mechanically ventilated critically ill patients. Crit Care 2014;18:R12.  Back to cited text no. 12
Gruther W, Benesch T, Zorn C, Paternostro-Sluga T, Quittan M, Fialka-Moser V, et al . Muscle wasting in intensive care patients: Ultrasound observation of the M. quadriceps femoris muscle layer. J Rehabil Med 2008;40:185-9.  Back to cited text no. 13
Parry SM, El-Ansary D, Cartwright MS, Sarwal A, Berney S, Koopman R, et al . Ultrasonography in the intensive care setting can be used to detect changes in the quality and quantity of muscle and is related to muscle strength and function. J Crit Care 2015;30:1151.e9-14.  Back to cited text no. 14
Reid CL, Campbell IT, Little RA. Muscle wasting and energy balance in critical illness. Clin Nutr 2004;23:273-80.  Back to cited text no. 15
Thomaes T, Thomis M, Onkelinx S, Coudyzer W, Cornelissen V, Vanhees L. Reliability and validity of the ultrasound technique to measure the rectus femoris muscle diameter in older CAD-patients. BMC Med Imaging 2012;12:7.  Back to cited text no. 16
Hadda V, Kumar R, Dhungana A, Khan MA, Madan K, Khilnani GC. Inter- and intra-observer variability of ultrasonographic arm muscle thickness measurement by critical care physicians. J Postgrad Med 2017;63:157-61.  Back to cited text no. 17
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