Southampton helps prevent malnutrition in critically ill across Europe

What we eat affects our our own health now, in later life, and that of our unborn children

Southampton researcher Philip Calder, as part of a panel of experts, has produced new European guidelines for medical teams on how to prevent malnutrition in intensive care patients.

Good nutrition is important for all of us, but for patients on the intensive care unit (ICU) it can tip the balance to ensure their recovery and survival.

Professor Philip Calder has been part of a two year long effort by a multi-national panel of experts to produce new European guidelines for ICU medical teams, based on the latest evidence. These guidelines, published online by the European Society for Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism (ESPEN), will help to improve the nutrition of critically ill patients all across Europe.

Challenging care 

Meeting the nutritional needs of patients in ICU can be extremely difficult. The simple act of eating can pose a big challenge to these patients. Patients in ICU may have difficulty chewing and swallowing, may have had major surgery on their gut or be entirely comatose. This means that while some patients may be able to eat normally, others need to be tube fed or even get their nutrition infused directly into their veins.

Not only that, but depending on why they were admitted to ICU, some patients can have extra specific nutritional requirements. Patients with severe burns, for example, lose a lot of fluid through their skin, taking with it key minerals that need to be replaced.   

“These patients are very complicated,” explains Professor Calder. “They may need surgery, complex combinations of medications and external support for several organs to maintain function. If the patient is very frail or malnourished, these interventions are not going to work very well.”

Reviewing the evidence

ESPEN is a learned society that brings together doctors, dieticians, pharmacists, nurses and scientists with an interest in nutritional support of patients. It develops clinical guidelines for the medical community across the whole of Europe.

Professor Calder was part of a panel of experts from ten different countries, which responded to questions from the medical community by reviewing and summarising the latest evidence. An online system was then used to gather feedback and agreement with these statements from relevant professionals. Finally, the text was discussed in specially arranged workshops, after which the guidelines were published online. Altogether, the whole process took about two years.  

Southampton’s involvement in this process equips ICU teams across Europe with the latest evidence and advice they need on nutrition to give critically ill patients the best chance possible. 

Posted on Wednesday 30 January 2019