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Chest. 1991 Jan;99(1):176-84.

Peripheral nerve function in sepsis and multiple organ failure.

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Department of Clinical Neurological Sciences, University of Western Ontario, London, Canada.


Forty-three patients who had sepsis and multiple organ failure (critical illness) were studied prospectively to determine the incidence and severity of peripheral nerve function and to correlate such function with a number of variables. Electrophysiologic studies indicated a primary axonal degeneration of motor and sensory fibers in 30 (70 percent). Fifteen (30 percent) had the clinical signs of difficulty in weaning from assisted ventilation, weakness of limb muscles, and reduced or absent deep tendon reflexes. Full recovery from the polyneuropathy occurred among the 23 (53 percent) who survived, except three who had a very severe polyneuropathy. A peripheral nerve function index, computed from electrophysiologic measurements, showed statistically significant (p less than 0.01) negative correlations with the time in the critical care unit, and the serum glucose value; the serum albumin level showed a positive correlation. Multiple regression analyses indicated all three factors accounted for 47 percent (r2 = 0.4678) of all potential variables. In a separate analysis, the nerve function index correlated with the amplitude of the diaphragm compound muscle action potential (p less than 0.01). The results were consistent with the polyneuropathy being due to the same mechanisms that are currently postulated to cause dysfunction in this syndrome of other organ systems (including the neuromuscular respiratory system).

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