The Intensive Care Unit, ICU, is the part of the hospital that houses and cares for the sickest and most severely injured patients. These patients often require assistance with normal living activities, such as eating and drinking. ICU nutrition is the diet that is supplied to patients who are in the intensive care unit and typically cannot eat themselves.
When a patient is unable to eat, required nutrients are normally supplied one of two ways. ICU nutrition may be given in the form of intravenous (IV) feedings, where glucose and other essentials are dripped directly into the patient’s bloodstream. A bag containing the appropriate solution is typically hung together with any other IV solutions the patient is receiving.
Another common way of administering ICU nutrition to patients is through a feeding tube that is often placed directly into the patient’s stomach. In some cases the tube passes through the nose and down the throat, but where the tube feeding is to be long-term the tube may be surgically implanted. It then connects directly to the stomach or the intestines.
Despite the fact that ICU nutrition has been shown to be very important to a patient’s overall health, in many cases patients fall victim to systematic ICU undernutrition. This means that the patient is being consistently and continually fed less calories and other nutrients than he or she requires. Typically, the attending physician feels that a bedridden patient needs far less nutrition than is actually needed. Unfortunately, this practice can cause delayed healing or other problems in some patients.
There are many different liquid diets available for doctors to choose from when ordering that a patient be placed on ICU nutrition. Due to the fact that many of these diets are very high in glucose, it is important to monitor the patient’s blood sugar very closely. Even non-diabetic patients may need help controlling glucose levels, especially when receiving IV feedings.
Typically, patients are kept on closely monitored ICU nutrition regimens until they are able to eat for themselves. At this point, a patient’s diet is still watched, but no longer requires the same level of control that it did while the patient was receiving IV or tube feedings. Most of the time patients return to normal diets without significant problems once the issues that required special feedings have been resolved.