Early intervention (mobilization or active exercise) for critically ill adults in the intensive care unit

Katherine A Doiron, Tammy C Hoffmann, Elaine M Beller

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BACKGROUND: Survivors of critical illness often experience a multitude of problems that begin in the intensive care unit (ICU) or present and continue after discharge. These can include muscle weakness, cognitive impairments, psychological difficulties, reduced physical function such as in activities of daily living (ADLs), and decreased quality of life. Early interventions such as mobilizations or active exercise, or both, may diminish the impact of the sequelae of critical illness.

OBJECTIVES: To assess the effects of early intervention (mobilization or active exercise), commenced in the ICU, provided to critically ill adults either during or after the mechanical ventilation period, compared with delayed exercise or usual care, on improving physical function or performance, muscle strength and health-related quality of life.

SEARCH METHODS: We searched CENTRAL, MEDLINE, Embase and CINAHL. We searched conference proceedings, reference lists of retrieved articles, databases of trial registries and contacted experts in the field on 31 August 2017. We did not impose restrictions on language or location of publications.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We included all randomized controlled trials (RCTs) or quasi-RCTs that compared early intervention (mobilization or active exercise, or both), delivered in the ICU, with delayed exercise or usual care delivered to critically ill adults either during or after the mechanical ventilation period in the ICU.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Two researchers independently screened titles and abstracts and assessed full-text articles against the inclusion criteria of this review. We resolved any disagreement through discussion with a third review author as required. We presented data descriptively using mean differences or medians, risk ratios and 95% confidence intervals. A meta-analysis was not possible due to the heterogeneity of the included studies. We assessed the quality of evidence with GRADE.

MAIN RESULTS: We included four RCTs (a total of 690 participants), in this review. Participants were adults who were mechanically ventilated in a general, medical or surgical ICU, with mean or median age in the studies ranging from 56 to 62 years. Admitting diagnoses in three of the four studies were indicative of critical illness, while participants in the fourth study had undergone cardiac surgery. Three studies included range-of-motion exercises, bed mobility activities, transfers and ambulation. The fourth study involved only upper limb exercises. Included studies were at high risk of performance bias, as they were not blinded to participants and personnel, and two of four did not blind outcome assessors. Three of four studies reported only on those participants who completed the study, with high rates of dropout. The description of intervention type, dose, intensity and frequency in the standard care control group was poor in two of four studies.Three studies (a total of 454 participants) reported at least one measure of physical function. One study (104 participants) reported low-quality evidence of beneficial effects in the intervention group on return to independent functional status at hospital discharge (59% versus 35%, risk ratio (RR) 1.71, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.11 to 2.64); the absolute effect is that 246 more people (95% CI 38 to 567) per 1000 would attain independent functional status when provided with early mobilization. The effects on physical functioning are uncertain for a range measures: Barthel Index scores (early mobilization: median 75 control: versus 55, low quality evidence), number of ADLs achieved at ICU (median of 3 versus 0, low quality evidence) or at hospital discharge (median of 6 versus 4, low quality evidence). The effects of early mobilization on physical function measured at ICU discharge are uncertain, as measured by the Acute Care Index of Function (ACIF) (early mobilization mean: 61.1 versus control: 55, mean difference (MD) 6.10, 95% CI -11.85 to 24.05, low quality evidence) and the Physical Function ICU Test (PFIT) score (5.6 versus 5.4, MD 0.20, 95% CI -0.98 to 1.38, low quality evidence). There is low quality evidence that early mobilization may have little or no effect on physical function measured by the Short Physical Performance Battery score at ICU discharge from one study of 184 participants (mean 1.6 in the intervention group versus 1.9 in usual care, MD -0.30, 95% CI -1.10 to 0.50), or at hospital discharge (MD 0, 95% CI -1.00 to 0.90). The fourth study, which examined postoperative cardiac surgery patients did not measure physical function as an outcome.Adverse effects were reported across the four studies but we could not combine the data. Our certainty in the risk of adverse events with either mobilization strategy is low due to the low rate of events. One study reported that in the intervention group one out of 49 participants (2%) experienced oxygen desaturation less than 80% and one of 49 (2%) had accidental dislodgement of the radial catheter. This study also found cessation of therapy due to participant instability occurred in 19 of 498 (4%) of the intervention sessions. In another study five of 101 (5%) participants in the intervention group and five of 109 (4.6%) participants in the control group had postoperative pulmonary complications deemed to be unrelated to intervention. A third study found one of 150 participants in the intervention group had an episode of asymptomatic bradycardia, but completed the exercise session. The fourth study reported no adverse events.

AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: There is insufficient evidence on the effect of early mobilization of critically ill people in the ICU on physical function or performance, adverse events, muscle strength and health-related quality of life at this time. The four studies awaiting classification, and the three ongoing studies may alter the conclusions of the review once these results are available. We assessed that there is currently low-quality evidence for the effect of early mobilization of critically ill adults in the ICU due to small sample sizes, lack of blinding of participants and personnel, variation in the interventions and outcomes used to measure their effect and inadequate descriptions of the interventions delivered as usual care in the studies included in this Cochrane Review.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberCD010754
JournalCochrane database of systematic reviews (Online)
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 27 Mar 2018


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