How Does Frailty Affect ICU Outcome?


Purpose of the Review

Frailty as a concept has been developed a lot during the last 25 years. From its start in geriatrics, its usefulness has also been demonstrated in most other clinical specialties including anesthesia, surgery, and intensive care. Several tools have been found useful to characterize frailty status: frailty phenotype, clinical frailty scale, or specific scores for surgical patients. The purpose of this review is to discuss how frailty interactive with acute critical illness and may alter ICU outcomes, particularly in the old patients.

Recent Findings

Frailty has in many studies been found to have a substantial impact on most outcome parameters in ICU patients, mainly mortality, but also as non-mortality outcomes. Risk ratio for mortality in frail versus non-frail ICU patients is significantly increased.

Frailty affects several important body functions like the endocrine system and brain, muscular, and immune functions. In the ICU, these impaired body functions add to the traditional acute vital organ dysfunctions, well described in the ICU patient. This combination of reduced body function in patients that in addition develops a critical illness is the most likely cause of not only increased short-term but also long-term mortality found in frail ICU patients.


This review summarizes current tools to identify frailty and summarizes recent findings of the prognostic role of frailty in the ICU.

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Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: • Of importance •• Of major importance

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Hans Flaatten.

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Conflict of Interest

Hans Flaatten declares that he has no conflict of interest.

Christian Jung has received research funding from Actelion Pharmaceuticals, Bayer Healthcare, Vifor Pharma, ZOLL Medical Corporation, Novartis, and Medicure, Inc.; has received compensation from Actelion Pharmaceuticals, Bayer Healthcare, Vifor Pharma, ZOLL Medical Corporation, Pfizer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Abbott Vascular, Boston Scientific, Boehringer Ingelheim, Sanofi Aventis, Novartis, and Orion Pharma for service as a consultant; and has received non-financial support from Actelion Pharmaceuticals, Abbott Vascular, Novartis, and Orion Pharma.

Helene Vallet declares that she has no conflict of interest.

Bertrand Guidet declares that he has no conflict of interest.

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Flaatten, H., Jung, C., Vallet, H. et al. How Does Frailty Affect ICU Outcome?. Curr Anesthesiol Rep 9, 144–150 (2019).

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  • Frailty
  • Intensive care
  • Outcome mortality
  • Outcome non-mortality
  • Assessment
  • Elderly
  • Cognition
  • Sarcopenia
  • Immunosenescence