What is nutritional failure and can we recognize it

Nutritional failure results when a patient's nutrient intake falls short of metabolic requirements. If prolonged, this will lead to malnutrition which is associated with an increased morbidity and mortality. Signs of nutritional failure are insidious, and the diagnosis is often only made when malnutrition has become established.

In malnutrition, as with any disorder, survival depends upon the maintenance of vital functions. Table 1 lists those which may be adversely affected by malnutrition.

Table 1 Vital functions endangered in malnutrition

Preventing the development of malnutrition during the course of critical illness is a major therapeutic goal in the intensive care unit (ICU). Whether this can be achieved by conventional nutritional therapies is still debatable as some studies suggest that the side-effects of current nutritional therapies may outweigh the possible benefits.

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