Context: Nutritional support has become a standard of care for hospitalized patients, but whether total parenteral nutrition (TPN) affects morbidity and mortality is unclear.
Objective: To examine the relationship between TPN and complication and mortality rates in critically ill patients.
Data sources: Computerized search of published research on MEDLINE from 1980 to 1998, personal files, and review of relevant reference lists.
Study selection: We reviewed 210 titles, abstracts, and papers. Primary studies were included if they were randomized clinical trials of critically ill or surgical patients that evaluated the effect of TPN (compared with standard care) on complication and mortality rates. We excluded studies comparing TPN with enteral nutrition.
Data extraction: Relevant data were abstracted on the methodology and outcomes of primary studies. Data were abstracted in duplicate, independently.
Data synthesis: There were 26 randomized trials of 2211 patients comparing the use of TPN with standard care (usual oral diet plus intravenous dextrose) in surgical and critically ill patients. When the results of these trials were aggregated, TPN had no effect on mortality (risk ratio [RR], 1.03; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.81-1.31). Patients who received TPN tended to have a lower complication rate, but this result was not statistically significant (RR, 0.84; 95% CI, 0.64-1.09). We examined several a priori hypotheses and found that studies including only malnourished patients were associated with lower complication rates but no difference in mortality when compared with studies of nonmalnourished patients. Studies published since 1989 and studies with a higher methods score showed no treatment effect, while studies published in 1988 or before and studies with a lower methods score demonstrated a significant treatment effect. Complication rates were lower in studies that did not use lipids; however, there was no difference in mortality rates between studies that did not use lipids and those studies that did. Studies limited to critically ill patients demonstrated a significant increase in complication and mortality rates compared with studies of surgical patients.
Conclusions: Total parenteral nutrition does not influence the overall mortality rate of surgical or critically ill patients. It may reduce the complication rate, especially in malnourished patients, but study results are influenced by patient population, use of lipids, methodological quality, and year of publication.