Massive nitrogen loss in critical surgical illness: effect on cardiac mass and function

Ann Surg. 1997 Aug;226(2):191-7. doi: 10.1097/00000658-199708000-00011.


Objective: The authors measured cardiac mass and function to determine whether these changed in patients who were critically ill who were losing large amounts of nitrogen from the body.

Summary background data: The large losses of body nitrogen that occur in patients with protein-energy malnutrition are associated with a loss of cardiac mass and function. It is not known if this also occurs in patients who were critically ill who are losing massive amounts of nitrogen.

Methods: Once hemodynamically stable, 13 patients who were critically ill underwent sequential measurements of left ventricular mass (LVM) and function, total body nitrogen (TBN), total body potassium, body weight, fat-free mass, and limb muscle mass.

Results: Over a 21-day study period, there was no change in LVM or function despite falls of 14% and 21% in TBN and total body potassium, respectively, a 21% fall in limb muscle mass, and a deterioration in skeletal muscle function by approximately 40%.

Conclusions: In patients who were critically ill, cardiac mass does not decrease and function does not deteriorate after hemodynamic stability has been achieved despite massive losses of protein from the body.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Body Weight
  • Critical Illness*
  • Female
  • Heart Ventricles / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nitrogen / metabolism*
  • Organ Size
  • Postoperative Complications / metabolism*
  • Postoperative Complications / pathology
  • Postoperative Complications / physiopathology*
  • Potassium / metabolism
  • Ventricular Function / physiology*


  • Nitrogen
  • Potassium