Is refeeding syndrome relevant for critically ill patients?

Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2018 Mar;21(2):130-137. doi: 10.1097/MCO.0000000000000449.


Purpose of review: To summarize recent relevant studies regarding refeeding syndrome (RFS) in critically ill patients and provide recommendations for clinical practice.

Recent findings: Recent knowledge regarding epidemiology of refeeding syndrome among critically ill patients, how to identify ICU patients at risk, and strategies to reduce the potential negative impact on outcome are discussed.

Summary: RFS is a potentially fatal acute metabolic derangement that ultimately can result in marked morbidity and even mortality. These metabolic derangements in ICU patients differ from otherwise healthy patients with RFS, as there is lack of anabolism. This is because of external stressors inducing a hypercatabolic response among other reasons also reflected by persistent high glucagon despite initiation of feeding. Lack of a proper uniform definition complicates diagnosis and research of RFS. However, refeeding hypophosphatemia is commonly encountered during critical illness. The correlations between risk factors proposed by international guidelines and the occurrence of RFS in ICU patients remains unclear. Therefore, regular phosphate monitoring is recommended. Based on recent trials among critically ill patients, only treatment with supplementation of electrolytes and vitamins seems not sufficient. In addition, caloric restriction for several days and gradual increase of caloric intake over days is recommendable.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Caloric Restriction
  • Critical Illness / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Hypophosphatemia / therapy
  • Intensive Care Units
  • Magnesium / administration & dosage
  • Magnesium / blood
  • Phosphates / administration & dosage
  • Phosphates / blood
  • Potassium / administration & dosage
  • Potassium / blood
  • Refeeding Syndrome / physiopathology
  • Refeeding Syndrome / therapy*
  • Risk Factors
  • Stress, Physiological
  • Thiamine / administration & dosage
  • Thiamine / blood


  • Phosphates
  • Magnesium
  • Potassium
  • Thiamine