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Ir J Med Sci. 2012 Dec;181(4):467-71. doi: 10.1007/s11845-011-0800-7. Epub 2012 Jan 10.

Acute intestinal failure in surgical patients: an audit of incidence, management and outcomes in an irish hospital, and compliance with ASGBI guidelines.

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  • 1Department of Surgery, Institute of Molecular Medicine, Trinity Centre for Health Sciences, St. James's Hospital, Dublin 8, Ireland.



Acute intestinal failure (AIF) is defined as an inability to tolerate 80% of nutritional requirements delivered enterally for a minimum of 48 h. In surgical patients it commonly relates to abdominal sepsis, intestinal obstruction, or ileus. The prevalence of AIF in surgical units in Ireland has not previously been studied.


We retrospectively audited the general surgical and ICU departments in St James's Hospital over a 3-month period to identify patients with AIF and followed their management and outcomes focusing on the need for artificial nutrition and surgical intervention.


Fifty-four surgical patients (11.4% of surgical emergency admissions) were diagnosed with AIF over the 3-month period. Of these, 30 (55.6%) required nutritional support; 26 (48.2%) had surgical ± radiological intervention and 6 (11.1%) had radiological intervention alone. Abdominal sepsis was present in 17 (31.5%) patients, a group that required significantly longer parenteral (14.6 vs. 6.7 days, p 0.029) and enteral (13.9 vs. 2.2 days, p 0.005) nutrition than AIF patients without abdominal sepsis. AIF also took longer to resolve in (5.8 vs. 4.2 days, p 0.024) in sepsis versus nonsepsis patients. The majority of patients (n = 43, 80%) were referred to clinical nutrition teams early after having symptoms for 3.77 days (range 1-21) and 72% had complete nutritional assessment clearly documented.


AIF is common, and can often be treated conservatively. Early linkage with nutrition services is recommended. Early diagnosis of abdominal sepsis is important as this cohort of patients can be particularly difficult to manage.

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