Weakness is a symptom of a huge variety of acute medical and surgical problems. Acute weakness may be a condition which either precipitates intensive care admission and or manifests itself during or after intensive care treatment. Clearly the most life-threatening complications are failure to protect the airway or maintain adequate ventilation function, and these should be assessed urgently prior to a more leisurely examination of the rest of the patient. Support should be initiated prior to diagnosis if necessary.

A list of some common causes of acute weakness is shown in Table 1.. This is not an exhaustive list; for instance, there is a two-volume textbook devoted to disorders of the peripheral nerves alone!

Table 1 Causes of weakness

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