Overfeeding macronutrients to critically ill adults: metabolic complications

J Am Diet Assoc. 1998 Jul;98(7):795-806. doi: 10.1016/S0002-8223(98)00179-5.


Metabolic complications from overfeeding critically ill patients are serious and sometimes fatal. Nutrition care is best provided through repeated evaluation of patients' responses to feeding. Nutrition support may need to be modified over time to maintain metabolic stability and promote recovery. This article describes the etiology of 10 metabolic complications of overfeeding. Guidelines for recommending macronutrients are discussed, as are factors that could increase the risk of overfeeding. Patients who are very small, very large, or very old are particularly vulnerable to overfeeding. Overfeeding protein has led to azotemia, hypertonic dehydration, and metabolic acidosis. Excessive carbohydrate infusion has resulted in hyperglycemia, hypertriglyceridemia, and hepatic steatosis. High-fat infusions have caused hypertriglyceridemia and fat-overload syndrome. Hypercapnia and refeeding syndrome have also been caused by aggressive overfeeding. Dietitians can prevent or curtail the metabolic complications of overfeeding by identifying patients at risk, providing adequate assessment, coordinating interdisciplinary care plans, and delivering timely and appropriate monitoring and intervention. Dietitians need to document complications, interventions, and the outcomes of their clinical care to evaluate the appropriateness of existing nutrition guidelines.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acidosis / etiology
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Carbohydrates / administration & dosage
  • Critical Illness / therapy*
  • Eating / physiology*
  • Energy Intake
  • Fats / administration & dosage
  • Fatty Liver / etiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypercapnia / etiology
  • Hyperglycemia / etiology
  • Hypertriglyceridemia / etiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Parenteral Nutrition, Total / adverse effects
  • Parenteral Nutrition, Total / standards*
  • Proteins / administration & dosage
  • Uremia / etiology


  • Carbohydrates
  • Fats
  • Proteins