PTs Key in Addressing PICS in COVID-19 Survivors

May 19th, 2020
By: Content Staff

With thousands of Americans leaving intensive-care units after brutal bouts with COVID-19, post-intensive care syndrome (PICS) is becoming an increasing concern. In an online article, the University of Buffalo noted that at least half of all patients leaving ICUs typically will experience problems with physical function, cognition or mental health, and that statistic likely will hold true for COVID-19 patients too.

Dr. Patricia Ohtake, associate professor in physical therapy at UB’s School of Public Health and Health Professions, told the school’s website that PICS doesn’t get enough attention from health-care providers, so patients sometimes don’t get prescribed adequate rehabilitation services. She’s the lead author of a paper published in Physical Therapy Journal that offers best practices for managing PICS in patients. Due to its relevance to the coronavirus pandemic, the paper was published ahead of schedule.

Ohtake told the school’s website that physical therapy can help PICS patients recover at home, so researchers hope the paper raises awareness about PICS with physical therapists in home- and community-based practices.

“This paper discusses the evidence-based rehabilitation of people with post-intensive care syndrome and is particularly significant right now,” Ohtake said in the article. “While the manuscript draws from literature investigating people who have survived general, medical, surgical, respiratory, trauma, cardiac and neurological ICU care, the content is also likely relevant to people recovering from ICU care required due to COVID-19 infection.”

Symptoms of PICS include muscle weakness and difficulty walking and maintaining one’s balance, according to a fact sheet from the American Thoracic Society. Patients may have trouble dressing, bathing, managing their medications and finances and performing other tasks to take care of themselves. Some patients have trouble returning to work and driving, the UB website said.

Mental-health symptoms include anxiety, irritability, depression, trouble sleeping and post-traumatic stress disorder. Patients may have difficulty remembering and concentrating.

PICS patients may experience one or more of these physical or cognitive symptoms, and if they had any of these problems before ICU treatment, those symptoms may become worse due to PICS, according to the UB article.

Ohtake told the school’s website that PTs can play a critical role in helping PICS patients complete their recovery and resume their normal lives.
“With an increased understanding of the problems people experience following critical illness, home- and community-based physical therapists will be more equipped to recognize the physical, mental-health and cognitive problems that these people are experiencing,” Ohtake said in the article.

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