Indian Journal of Critical Care Medicine
Volume 26 | Issue 6 | Year 2022

Nerve Conduction Studies: What an Intensivist should Know?

Sai Saran1https://orcid.org/0000-0002-6181-8661, Abdul Qavi2https://orcid.org/0000-0002-4223-5540

1Department of Critical Care Medicine, King George Medical University, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India
2Department of Neurology, DR Ram Manohar Lohia Institute of Medical Sciences, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India

Corresponding Author: Sai Saran, Department of Critical Care Medicine, King George Medical University, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India, Phone: +91 8004505719, e-mail: saisaranpv@gmail.com

How to cite this article: Saran S, Qavi A. Nerve Conduction Studies: What an Intensivist should Know? Indian J Crit Care Med 2022;26(6):759–760.

Source of support: Nil

Conflict of interest: None

Keywords: Guillain-Barré syndrome, Intensive care, Nerve conduction.

Dear Editor,

In clinical scenarios with acute-onset neuromuscular weakness, reports of nerve conduction studies (NCS) form one of the crucial diagnostics, aiding in treatment decisions like administration of intravenous immunoglobulin therapy or therapeutic plasma exchange, as these interventions reduce mortality significantly.1,2 There might be a situation during that period, wherein the intensivist may need to take an early decision based on the available clinical scenario with the NCS report in hand.2,3 There is a lack of simplified rules or algorithms in critical care literature that can help the intensivist in such decision-making.4,5 In the intensive care unit, multiple factors like age, sex, height, and other physical characteristics and ongoing treatment like sedatives, analgesics, muscle relaxants, and antimicrobials influence the NCS.1,5 Through this letter, we provide approximate cutoff values for an adult in a single image based on which bedside interpretation can be done.

This algorithm (Fig. 1) even provides information relating to prerequisites to be considered before shifting for such studies such as the absence of peripheral edema, pacemaker, and hypothermia, which can influence the report. It provides three simple rules by looking at conduction velocity (CV), amplitude, and onset latency. Sensory nerves have highest CV with upper limb approximately 60 meters/second (UL) > lower limb (LL) with approximately 50 meters/second (m/s). Motor nerves have approximately 50 m/s in UL and 40 m/s in LL, respectively, creating rule I as of the 60-50-40 rule.4 Sensory nerves have higher amplitude and peak latency than their motor components. After 20 years, the CV reduces by 2–4 m/s in sensory nerves and 0.4–1.7 m/s per decade in motor nerves respectively. The CV reduces by more than two-thirds of cutoff values (COV) in demyelinating pathology and less than two-thirds of COV in axonal pathology. Apart from this, in axonal pathology, amplitude of motor nerves reduces significantly with COV being 6-4-2 millivolts (mV) in ulnar, median, and common peroneal nerves, respectively (rule II). Onset latency is approximately 3 milliseconds (ms) in radial (UL) and 6 ms in tibial (LL), respectively, labeled as the 3-6 rule as rule III.1,6 Apart from this, in axonal pathology, the onset latency in milliseconds will be normal or slightly increased and so is F-wave minimum latency (late motor response testing in the proximal part of the nerve which indicates proximal demyelination), whereas these two are significantly affected in demyelinating pathology.4 F-wave abnormality is useful as this is the first affected in the early stages of acute inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (AIDP), in which even the CV and onset latency can be normal.

Fig. 1: Approach to interpretation of nerve conduction study (NCS) in an adult. m/s, meters/second; mV, millivolt; UL, upper limb; LL, lower limb; NCS, nerve conduction study; APB, abductor pollicis brevis; ADM, abductor digiti minimi; EIP, extensor indicis proprius; EDB, extensor digitorum brevis; AHB, abductor hallucis muscle; CV, conduction velocity


Sai Saran https://orcid.org/0000-0002-6181-8661

Abdul Qavi https://orcid.org/0000-0002-4223-5540


1. Preston DC, Shapiro BE. Electromyography and neuromuscular disorders: clinical electrophysiologic correlations. McGill J Med MJM 2006;9:173. PMCID: PMC2323522.

2. Sabharwal P, Chakraborty S, Tyagi N, Kumar A. Acute flaccid quadriparesis in a recovering COVID-19 patient: a clinical dilemma. Indian J Crit Care Med 2021;25(2):238–239. DOI: 10.5005/jp-journals-10071-23728.

3. Sarada PP, Sundararajan K. The devil is in the detail: acute Guillain-Barré syndrome camouflaged as neurosarcoidosis in a critically ill patient admitted to an Intensive Care Unit. Indian J Crit Care Med 2016;20(4):238–241. DOI: 10.4103/0972-5229.180045.

4. Dangayach NS, Smith M, Claassen J. Electromyography and nerve conduction studies in critical care: step by step in the right direction. Intensive Care Med 2016;42:1168–1171. DOI: 10.1007/s00134-015-4137-y.

5. Kimura J. Electrodiagnosis in diseases of nerve and muscle. Oxford University Press; 2013. Available from: http://oxfordmedicine.com/view/10.1093/med/9780199738687.001.0001/med-9780199738687.

6. Mallik A. Nerve conduction studies: essentials and pitfalls in practice. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry 2005;76:ii23–ii31. DOI: 10.1136/jnnp.2005.069138.

© The Author(s). 2022 Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and non-commercial reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.