When should nutritional support be implemented in a hospitalized patient?


Surgical patients

  • Consider postponing surgery to provide 7-10 days of preoperative nutrition supplementation in patients with risk of severe undernutrition.16
  • Consider postoperative nutritional support if patients are at risk for severe undernutrition, are unable to eat for more than 7 days perioperatively, or are unable to maintain oral intake above 60% of recommended intake for more than 10 days.16
  • Consider total parenteral nutrition in cases of impaired gastrointestinal function and absorption, high output enterocutaneous fistulae, obstructive lesions that do not allow enteral refeeding, or prolonged gastrointestinal failure.16

Prolonged Starvation

  • Because of the high risk of refeeding syndrome, patients greater than 30% below ideal body weight should be hospitalized for close monitoring during refeeding.12
  • Typical goal for weight gain is no greater than 2-3 pounds per week.10
  • Total parenteral nutrition should be reserved for extreme cases, and if used, carbohydrate intake should not exceed 7 mg/kg/min.12


  • Enteral nutrition should be initiated within 24-48 hours of initial hospitalization if a patient is estimated to require feeding for more than 5 days and/or remain nil per os for 5-7 days.
  • If a patient is intubated with increased intracranial pressure, this could delay gastric motility requiring a postpyloric tube placement.
  • Initial placement of percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy tubes can be considered if the hospitalized patient is expected to require nutritional support for greater than 30 days. Most patients will have improved dysphagia symptoms within 1 month of their acute stroke, although as many as 40% can have continued dysphagia up to 1 year.10

Back to the Case

The patient was admitted for a common general medical condition, but it is important to recognize that malnutrition was present on admission with weight loss and generalized fluid overload. Furthermore, he is at high nutritional risk because of his low body weight, poor oral intake, and dysphagia. Additionally, the acute inflammation from pneumonia places him in an increased catabolic state.

Next Article:

   Comments ()