Gastrointestinal Dysfunction and Feeding Intolerance in Critical Illness: Do We Need an Objective Scoring System?

Stephen A. McClave, Jill Gualdoni, Annie Nagengast, Luis S. Marsano, Kathryn Bandy, Robert G. Martindale

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Purpose of Review: Efforts to provide early enteral nutrition in critical illness are thwarted by gastrointestinal dysfunction and feeding intolerance. While many of the signs and symptoms of this dysfunction reflect gastroparesis and intestinal dysmotility, other symptoms which may or may not be related are often included such as diarrhea, bleeding, and intra-abdominal hypertension. This paper discusses the need to monitor tolerance of nutritional therapy in the critical care setting and reviews the results of those clinical trials which have helped establish objective measures, define feeding intolerance, and provide a tool to guide continued delivery of the enteral regimen. Recent Findings: While definitions vary, the presence of gastrointestinal dysfunction and feeding intolerance correlates with adverse clinical outcomes, including prolonged duration of mechanical ventilation, greater length of stay in the intensive care unit, and increased mortality. Summary: Despite their prognostic value, it is not clear to what extent these scoring systems should direct nutritional therapy. The clinician should be astute in the careful selection of monitors, in identifying and addressing signs and symptoms of intolerance, and by responding appropriately with feeding strategies that are effective and safe. Early enteral feeding in critical illness has been shown to be optimized by following protocols which allow monitoring patient tolerance while providing individualized care.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1
JournalCurrent gastroenterology reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020


  • Enteral nutrition
  • Feeding intolerance
  • Gastric residual volumes
  • Gastrointestinal failure
  • Gastrointestinal tolerance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gastroenterology


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