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Doctors explain recovery from ICU is often lengthy and ultimately incomplete

A series of studies underway at leading medical institutions point to the conclusion that ICU patients leave the ICU with significant residual problems.  Doctors involved in ICU care report that patients, even young ones, may be physically weak and/or emotionally and intellectually debilitated for years after even a short stay in ICU.

Doctors have found lengthy and unexpected problems and deficits among former ICU patients, including post-traumatic stress disorder and weakness so severe as to be virtual paralysis.  Fully 25 percent of patients who had spent at least five days on ventilators could not use their arms to raise themselves to a sitting position immediately afterwards.  According to the authors of the report, patient strength and stamina may remain below what would otherwise be expected for five years or longer, and patients may even demonstrate changes in personality. 

These outcomes were not just a problem for aged patients, as doctors described young pneumonia patients and others who suffered similar long-term ramifications.  Doctors have known that ICU patients lose weight and muscle tone rapidly, however, this research surprised the authors both with respect to the degree of loss and with the rapidity of loss.  When it can be done safely, the authors have attempted to address the problem by episodic reduction of sedatives and even walking ICU patients to reduce muscle-mass loss.  The doctors say that contrary to what one might expect, episodic reduction in sedatives did not induce anxiety and stress in the patients:  one doctor suggested that the findings support the inference that "maintaining some awareness of reality is better for your psyche."

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