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.
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.
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).
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.