Nutritional Status Assessment of the Critically Ill Patient
Published: 13 October 2021
Malnutrition, including erosion of lean body mass and depletion of essential nutrients, is very common in critically ill patients as their nutrition status declines (Ziegler 2009).
Malnutrition is associated with impaired immunologic function, and malnourished patients have poorer outcomes after medical treatment or surgery (Leonard 2009).
Early nutritional support should, therefore, be assessed as soon as possible, preferably upon admission, with ongoing monitoring for all critically ill patients to ensure individual needs are identified and catered for to improve outcomes (Singer & Webb 2005).
The Importance of Assessing Nutritional Status
The aim of assessing a patient’s nutritional status is to:
Evaluate pre-existing hydration and nutritional conditions
Identify any hydration and nutrition-related complications that could affect the outcome
Determine the patient’s nutritional requirements
Maintain the optimum level of intake and promote adequate utilisation of hydration and food to promote growth, healing and recovery.
Factors That Affect Nutritional Status in Critically Ill Patients
The most common factors that can affect nutritional status in critically ill patients include:
Being unable to drink and eat
Vomiting and diarrhoea
Restricted fluid intake
Reduced gut motility
Fasting before procedures/investigations.
Assessing a Critically Ill Patient’s Nutritional Status
All patients should undergo nutritional screening on admission to hospital or healthcare settings (NICE 2017). You should follow your local policies and protocols to identify patients at risk of malnutrition and dehydration.
Steps for appropriate management include:
The screening process categorises patients into groups and those who are ‘at risk’.
A nutritional care plan should be developed, and referral for nutritional support made to an expert/dietitian for more detailed assessment (Kondrup et al. 2003a).
One screening tool used is the malnutrition universal screening tool (MUST) (Russell and Elia 2011), which is used in hospitals, communities and other healthcare settings. It’s used to identify adults who are malnourished, at risk of malnutrition or obese, and it includes management guidelines that can be used to develop a care plan (Malnutrition Advisory Group 2004).
A full examination of nutritional, metabolic and functional variables should be conducted, and consideration paid to patient history, current medications, laboratory results, the patient’s ability to swallow and bowel function.
The assessment should provide information leading to an appropriate care plan (Mallet 2013).
3. Monitoring and Outcome:
The effectiveness of the nutritional intervention should regularly be monitored, leading to adjustments in treatment as necessary throughout the patient’s stay.
Screening and assessment results and the developed nutritional care plan should be communicated to other health professionals when the patient is transferred somewhere else.
Modes of Feeding in Critically Ill Patients
Oral nutrition is generally considered the first line method, but patients who cannot tolerate oral feeding can be fed enterally or parenterally. The route used will depend on:
Whether the patient has a functioning GI tract system
Which route is appropriate based on the patient’s condition
How long feeding will be required.
Enteral feeding involves administering liquid feed via a tube placed in the patient’s stomach, duodenum or jejunum and is the route of choice for critically ill patients where oral feeding is not possible. This method is used if a patient has a functional and accessible GI tract (NICE 2017).
Routes of Enteral Feeding
Nasogastric: A tube through the nose into the stomach
Nasoduodenal: a tube through the nose into the duodenum
Nasojejunal: a tube through the nose into the jejunum
Percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG): PEG tubes should be considered when enteral feeding is necessary for four weeks or more.
(Marshall & Boyle 2007; NICE 2017)
Best Practice for Enteral Feeding
Adhere to best practice feeding protocols
Always confirm the tube position before the commencement of feed
Always flush the tubes before and after administration of medications
Regularly monitor the tube position during feeding
Monitor the patient’s vital signs, particularly the airway
Keep the head of the bed elevated to 30-45 degrees while administrating feed to reduce the risk of aspiration
Increase feed to meet nutritional requirements following local guidelines
Ensure feed is in date and administered following the manufacturer’s recommendations
Monitor the absorption of feed and follow the prescribed feeding regime
Maintain fluid balance
Monitor bowel function
Monitor the patient’s blood chemistry.
Parenteral nutrition involves the intravenous infusion of nutrients. It’s administrated via a single dedicated lumen either peripherally, via a PICC line, or centrally, via a central venous access device.
This route is used when oral and/or enteral nutrition is unable to fully meet the patient’s nutritional requirements, or when enteral nutrition is contraindicated (Ziegler 2009).
Best Practice for Parenteral Feeding
Only use when the enteral route is not possible
Administer feed following local protocols, policies and procedures
Ensure recent baseline biochemistry has been collected prior to commencing the feed as reviewed by the treating medical team
Document the patient’s weight
Maintain an accurate fluid balance chart
Ensure the access line has been inserted and confirmation has been determined and confirmed by a trained nurse or medical staff
Collect all equipment required for the procedure
Remove the feed from the medication refrigerator
Check the feed prescription order against the prepared order with a registered nurse or doctor
Check the patient’s identification at the bedside with a second registered nurse or doctor
Confirm the patient, prescription order and ensure there is a light-sensitive cover present
Do not use a feed bag if there are signs of contamination
Ensure that the entire infusion line is dedicated to the parenteral nutrition
Ensure that feed and tubing are regularly changed and clearly labelled at all times
Never add anything to a bag of TPN
Monitor the patient’s blood chemistry as per local policy
Monitor blood glucose levels regularly as per local policy
Avoid disconnecting the circuit
Monitor the patient for complications, particularly infection around the access line device
Regularly flush the line when not in use to maintain patency
Ensure the patient has been reviewed by a dietician whilst on parenteral nutrition.
(Jevon 2012; ACT Health 2021; The Royal Hospital for Women 2018)
Nutritional status should be assessed and regularly monitored in all critically ill patients. The method of nutritional support should also be closely monitored, in particular, the patient’s tolerance of it.
Cresci, G A 2005, Nutrition Support for the Critically Ill Patient, Boca Raton: Taylor & Francis.
Jevon, P, Ewens, B & Pooni, J S 2012, Monitoring the Critically Ill Patient, 3rd edn, John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Chichester.
Kondrup, J, Allison, S P, Alia, M, Vellas, B & Plauth, M 2003, ‘ESPEN Guidelines For Nutrition Screening’, Clinical Nutrition, vol. 22, no. 4, pp. 415-21, viewed 20 June 2018, http://espen.info/documents/screening.pdf
Kondrup, J, Rasmussen, H H, Hamberg, O, Stangam Z & Ad Hoc ESPEN Working Group 2003b, ‘Nutritional Risk Screening (NRS 2002): A New Method Based on an Analysis of Controlled Clinical Trials’, Clinical Nutrition, vol. 22, no. 3, pp. 321-36, viewed 20 June 2018, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12765673
Leonard, R 2009, ‘Enteral and Parenteral nutrition’, in: Bersten, AD & Sons, N (eds), Oh’s Critical Care Manual, 6th edn, Philadelphia, PA: Butterworth Heinemann Elsevier.
Mallet, J, Albarran, J & Richardson, R 2013, Critical Care Manual of Clinical Procedures and Competencies, Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
Malnutrition Advisory Group 2004, Malnutrition Universal Screening Tool, Redditch: BAPEN.
Marshall, A & Boyle, M 2007, ‘Support of Metabolic Function’, in: Elliot, R, Aitken, L M & Chaboyer, W (eds), ACCCN’s Critical Care Nursing, Marrickville, NSW: Mosby Elsevier.
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence 2017, Nutrition Support for Adults: Oral Nutrition Support, Enteral Tube Feeding and Parenteral Nutrition, NICE, viewed 20 June 2018, https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg32
Lydia Nabwami is registered nurse who has worked in various healthcare settings including cardiac ward, cardiac critical care unit (ITU), general ITU, A&E department, nursing homes and community nursing. She uses her experience as a RN to write well-researched content that helps to attract and motivate audiences. Lydia is also a freelance writer for hire with specialisation in health writing and has helped numerous companies with their content needs. Her work has appeared on sites such as Caring Village, Reachout, Lisa Nelson RD and more. When she isn’t writing, you can find her listening to motivational speeches, keeping active or playing with her two daughters. Contact Lydia or visit her website at Lnwritingservices.co.uk for more information on her services.