Incidence, Risk Factors, and Clinical Consequence of Enteral Feeding Intolerance in the Mechanically Ventilated Critically Ill: An Analysis of a Multicenter, Multiyear Database

Crit Care Med. 2021 Jan 1;49(1):49-59. doi: 10.1097/CCM.0000000000004712.


Objectives: To determine the incidence of enteral feed intolerance, identify factors associated with enteral feed intolerance, and assess the relationship between enteral feed intolerance and key nutritional and clinical outcomes in critically ill patients.

Design: Analysis of International Nutrition Survey database collected prospectively from 2007 to 2014.

Setting: Seven-hundred eighty-five ICUs from around the world.

Patients: Mechanically ventilated adults with ICU stay greater than or equal to 72 hours and received enteral nutrition during the first 12 ICU days.

Interventions: None.

Measurement and main results: We defined enteral feed intolerance as interrupted feeding due to one of the following reasons: high gastric residual volumes, increased abdominal girth, distension, subjective discomfort, emesis, or diarrhea. The current analysis included 15,918 patients. Of these, 4,036 (24%) had at least one episode of enteral feed intolerance. The enteral feed intolerance rate increased from 1% on day 1 to 6% on days 4 and 5 and declined daily thereafter. After controlling for site and patient covariates, burn (odds ratio 1.46; 95% CIs, 1.07-1.99), gastrointestinal (odds ratio 1.45; 95% CI, 1.27-1.66), and sepsis (odds ratio 1.34; 95% CI, 1.17-1.54) admission diagnoses were more likely to develop enteral feed intolerance, as compared to patients with respiratory-related admission diagnosis. enteral feed intolerance patients received about 10% less enteral nutrition intake, as compared to patients without enteral feed intolerance after controlling for important covariates including severity of illness. Enteral feed intolerance patients had fewer ventilator-free days and longer ICU length of stay time to discharge alive (all p < 0.0001). The daily mortality hazard rate increased by a factor of 1.5 (1.4-1.6; p < 0.0001) once enteral feed intolerance occurred.

Conclusions: Enteral feed intolerance occurs frequently during enteral nutrition delivery in the critically ill. Burn and gastrointestinal patients had the highest risk of developing enteral feed intolerance. Enteral feed intolerance is associated with lower enteral nutrition delivery and worse clinical outcomes. Identification, prevention, and optimal management of enteral feed intolerance may improve nutrition delivery and clinical outcomes in important "at risk" populations.