Early versus late parenteral nutrition in critically ill adults

N Engl J Med. 2011 Aug 11;365(6):506-17. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1102662. Epub 2011 Jun 29.


Background: Controversy exists about the timing of the initiation of parenteral nutrition in critically ill adults in whom caloric targets cannot be met by enteral nutrition alone.

Methods: In this randomized, multicenter trial, we compared early initiation of parenteral nutrition (European guidelines) with late initiation (American and Canadian guidelines) in adults in the intensive care unit (ICU) to supplement insufficient enteral nutrition. In 2312 patients, parenteral nutrition was initiated within 48 hours after ICU admission (early-initiation group), whereas in 2328 patients, parenteral nutrition was not initiated before day 8 (late-initiation group). A protocol for the early initiation of enteral nutrition was applied to both groups, and insulin was infused to achieve normoglycemia.

Results: Patients in the late-initiation group had a relative increase of 6.3% in the likelihood of being discharged alive earlier from the ICU (hazard ratio, 1.06; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.00 to 1.13; P=0.04) and from the hospital (hazard ratio, 1.06; 95% CI, 1.00 to 1.13; P=0.04), without evidence of decreased functional status at hospital discharge. Rates of death in the ICU and in the hospital and rates of survival at 90 days were similar in the two groups. Patients in the late-initiation group, as compared with the early-initiation group, had fewer ICU infections (22.8% vs. 26.2%, P=0.008) and a lower incidence of cholestasis (P<0.001). The late-initiation group had a relative reduction of 9.7% in the proportion of patients requiring more than 2 days of mechanical ventilation (P=0.006), a median reduction of 3 days in the duration of renal-replacement therapy (P=0.008), and a mean reduction in health care costs of €1,110 (about $1,600) (P=0.04).

Conclusions: Late initiation of parenteral nutrition was associated with faster recovery and fewer complications, as compared with early initiation. (Funded by the Methusalem program of the Flemish government and others; EPaNIC ClinicalTrials.gov number, NCT00512122.).

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Critical Illness / mortality
  • Critical Illness / therapy*
  • Energy Intake
  • Enteral Nutrition
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infections / epidemiology
  • Inflammation / epidemiology
  • Intensive Care Units
  • Kaplan-Meier Estimate
  • Length of Stay / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Parenteral Nutrition*
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Prospective Studies
  • Time Factors

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT00512122