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Seventy-two consecutive patients requiring total parenteral nutrition (TPN) were randomized to two groups. Group A received daily a peripheral intravenous regimen which provided 10 g nitrogen and 1400 non-nitrogen kcal (5.9 MJ). Group B received daily a peripheral intravenous regimen which delivered 9.4 g nitrogen and 1900 non-nitrogen kcal (8.0 MJ). Each group was further randomized to receive a self-adhesive patch of transdermal glyceryl trinitrate (GTN) or an identical placebo. Infusion survival was the main end-point. For group A, the median time of infusion survival was 74 h (range: 58-100) in the control group compared with 108 h (range: 68-156) in the group that received transdermal GTN (P less than 0.001). For group B, the median infusion survival was 67 h (range: 46-92) in the control group compared with 103 h (range: 66-151) in the treatment group (P less than 0.001). TPN is feasible via peripheral veins and the incidence of infusion failure can be effectively reduced by transdermal GTN.