Association between illness severity and timing of initial enteral feeding in critically ill patients: A retrospective observational study

Hsiu Hua Huang, Chien Wei Hsu, Shiu Ping Kang, Ming Yi Liu, Sue Joan Chang

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19 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Early enteral nutrition is recommended in cases of critical illness. It is unclear whether this recommendation is of most benefit to extremely ill patients. We aim to determine the association between illness severity and commencement of enteral feeding. Methods: One hundred and eight critically ill patients were grouped as less severe and more severe for this cross-sectional, retrospective observational study. The cut off value was based on Acute Physiology and Chronic Health Evaluation II score 20. Patients who received enteral feeding within 48 h of medical intensive care unit (ICU) admission were considered early feeding cases otherwise they were assessed as late feeding cases. Feeding complications (gastric retention/vomiting/diarrhea/ gastrointestinal bleeding), length of ICU stay, length of hospital stay, ventilator-associated pneumonia, hospital mortality, nutritional intake, serum albumin, serum prealbumin, nitrogen balance (NB), and 24-h urinary urea nitrogen data were collected over 21 days. Results: There were no differences in measured outcomes between early and late feedings for less severely ill patients. Among more severely ill patients, however, the early feeding group showed improved serum albumin (p = 0.036) and prealbumin (p = 0.014) but worsened NB (p = 0.01), more feeding complications (p = 0.005), and prolonged ICU stays (p = 0.005) compared to their late feeding counterparts. Conclusions: There is a significant association between severity of illness and timing of enteral feeding initiation. In more severe illness, early feeding was associated with improved nutritional outcomes, while late feeding was associated with reduced feeding complications and length of ICU stay. However, the feeding complications of more severely ill early feeders can be handled without significantly affecting nutritional intake and there is no eventual difference in length of hospital stay or mortality between groups. Consequently, early feeding shows to be a more beneficial nutritional intervention option than late feeding in patients with more severe illness.

Original languageEnglish
Article number30
JournalNutrition Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics

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