Intolerance to enteral feeding in the brain-injured patient

J. A. Norton, L. G. Ott, C. McClain, L. Adams, R. J. Dempsey, D. Haack, P. A. Tibbs, A. B. Young

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

130 Scopus citations


Calorie and protein supplementation improves nutritional status. This support may improve outcome and decrease morbidity and mortality in acutely brain-injured patients. Investigators have observed a poor tolerance to enteral feedings after brain injury and have noted that this persists for approximately 14 days postinjury. This delay has been attributed to increased gastric residuals, prolonged paralytic ileus, abdominal distension, aspiration pneumonitis, and diarrhea. In the present investigation, 23 brain-injured patients with an admission 24-hour peak Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) score between 4 and 10 were studied for 18 days from hospital admission. The mean duration from injury to initiation of full-strength, full-rate enteral feeding was 11.5 days. Seven of the 23 patients tolerated enteral feedings within the first 7 days following hospital admission (mean 4.3 days), four patients tolerated feedings between 7 and 10 days postadmission (mean 9 days), and 12 patients did not tolerate feedings until after 10 days postinjury (mean 15.9 days). There was a marginally significant relationship between low GCS scores on admission and length of days to enteral feeding tolerance (p = 0.07). A significant inverse relationship was observed between daily peak intracranial pressure (ICP) and time to tolerance of feedings (p = 0.02). There was no significant relationship between feeding tolerance and days to return of bowel sounds (p = 0.12). Serum albumin levels decreased during the investigation (mean ± standard error to the mean: 3.2 ± 0.12 gm/dl on Day 1; 2.7 ± 0.23 gm/dl on Day 16; normal = 3.5 to 5.0 gm/dl), whereas the percentage of patients tolerating feedings increased over the course of the study. The authors conclude that patients with acute severe brain injury do not adequately tolerate feedings via the enteral route in the early postinjury period. Tolerance of enteral feeding is inversely related to increased ICP and severity of brain injury. It is suggested that parenteral nutritional support is required following brain injury until enteral nutrition can be tolerated.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)62-66
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Neurosurgery
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1988

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Clinical Neurology


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