Glucose absorption and small intestinal transit in critical illness

Crit Care Med. 2011 Jun;39(6):1282-8. doi: 10.1097/CCM.0b013e31820ee21f.


Objectives: Although enteral nutrition is standard care for critically ill patients, nutrient absorption has not been quantified in this group and may be impaired due to intestinal dysmotility. The objectives of this study were to measure small intestinal glucose absorption and duodenocecal transit and determine their relationship with glycemia in the critically ill.

Design: Prospective observational study of healthy and critically ill subjects.

Setting: Tertiary mixed medical-surgical adult intensive care unit.

Subjects: Twenty-eight critically ill patients and 16 healthy subjects were studied. MATERIALS AND MAIN RESULTS: Liquid feed (100 kcal/100 mL), labeled with Tc-sulfur colloid and including 3 g of 3-O-methylglucose, was infused into the duodenum. Glucose absorption and duodenocecal transit were measured using the area under the 3-O-methylglucose concentration curve and scintigraphy, respectively. Data are median (range).

Results and discussion: Glucose absorption was reduced in critical illness when compared to health (area under the concentration curve: 16 [1-32] vs. 20 [14-34] mmol/L·min; p = .03). Small intestinal transit times were comparable in patients and healthy subjects (192 [9-240] vs. 168 [6-240] min; p = .99) and were not related to glucose absorption. Despite higher fasting blood glucose concentrations (6.3 [5.1-9.3] vs. 5.7 [4.6-7.6] mmol/L; p < .05), the increment in blood glucose was sustained for longer in the critically ill (Δ glucose at t = 60; 1.9 [-2.1-5.0] mmol/L vs. -0.2 [-1.3-2.3] mmol/L; p < .01).

Conclusions: Critical illness is associated with reduced small intestinal glucose absorption, but despite this, the glycemic response to enteral nutrient is sustained for longer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cecum / physiology
  • Critical Illness*
  • Duodenum / physiology*
  • Enteral Nutrition
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Transit / physiology*
  • Glucose / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Hyperglycemia / etiology*
  • Hyperglycemia / metabolism
  • Hyperglycemia / physiopathology
  • Intestinal Absorption / physiology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Young Adult


  • Glucose