Malabsorption and nutritional balance in the ICU: fecal weight as a biomarker: a prospective observational pilot study

N.J. Wierdsma, J.H.C. Peters, P.J.M. Weijs, M.B. Keur, A.R.J. Girbes, A.A. van Bodegraven, A. Beishuizen

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Introduction: Malabsorption, which is frequently underdiagnosed in critically ill patients, is clinically relevant with regard to nutritional balance and nutritional management. We aimed to validate the diagnostic accuracy of fecal weight as a biomarker for fecal loss and additionally to assess fecal macronutrient contents and intestinal absorption capacity in ICU patients.Methods: This was an observational pilot study in a tertiary mixed medical-surgical ICU in hemodynamically stable adult ICU patients, without clinically evident gastrointestinal malfunction. Fecal weight (grams/day), fecal energy (by bomb calorimetry in kcal/day), and macronutrient content (fat, protein, and carbohydrate in grams/day) were measured. Diagnostic accuracy expressed in terms of test sensitivity, specificity, positive (PPV) and negative predictive value (NPV), and receiver operator curves (ROCs) were calculated for fecal weight as a marker for energy malabsorption. Malabsorption was a priori defined as < 85% intestinal absorption capacity.Results: Forty-eight patients (63 ± 15 years; 58% men) receiving full enteral feeding were included. A cut-off fecal production of > 350 g/day (that is, diarrhea) was linked to the optimal ROC (0.879), showing a sensitivity and PPV of 80%, respectively. Specificity and NPV were both 96%. Fecal weight (grams/day) and intestinal energy-absorption capacity were inversely correlated (r = -0.69; P < 0.001). Patients with > 350 g feces/day had a significantly more-negative energy balance compared with patients with < 350 g feces/day (loss of 627 kcal/day versus neutral balance; P = 0.012).Conclusions: A fecal weight > 350 g/day in ICU patients is a biomarker applicable in daily practice, which can act as a surrogate for fecal energy loss and intestinal energy absorption. Daily measurement of fecal weight is a feasible means of monitoring the nutritional status of critically ill patients and, in those identified as having malabsorption, can monitor responses to changes in dietary management.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberR264
Number of pages9
JournalCritical Care
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • Enteral Nutrition
  • Negative Energy Balance
  • Negative Predictive Value
  • Normal Stool
  • Rest Energy Expenditure

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