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Bowel Sounds and Monitoring Gastrointestinal Motility in Critically Ill Patients

Li, Bing MS, RN; Wang, Jian-Rong MS, RN; Ma, Yan-Lan PhD, RN

doi: 10.1097/NUR.0b013e31823bfab8
Feature Article

Purpose: The aims of this study were to determine whether bowel sounds auscultation is necessary in critically ill patients and to forecast the prospect of bowel sounds as a monitoring measurement in the intensive care unit (ICU).

Background: It has been suggested recently that bowel sounds are not an objective indicator of bowel motility and that auscultation should be abandoned. This has led to confusion as to whether bowel sounds auscultation should be continued in the ICU.

Description of the Project: A literature review of articles about bowel sounds and monitoring gastrointestinal motility in critically ill patients was conducted.

Outcome: At present, there are no more suitable indicators for bedside monitoring of bowel function and motility than bowel sounds. Although they lack objectivity, bowel sounds give a lot of useful information about gastrointestinal motility. The problems are how to improve practice and assessment standards and enhance the precision of auscultation devices.

Conclusion: Bowel sounds auscultation is necessary in the ICU. Effective application in critically ill patients requires reasonable practice and precise instrumentation.

Author Affiliations: Doctoral Student (Ms Li), Postgraduate Medical College, Beijing, and Director of Nursing (Ms Wang) and Deputy Director of Nursing (Dr Ma), Chinese PLA General Hospital, Beijing, China.

The authors report no conflicts of interest.

Correspondence: Jian-Rong Wang, MS, RN, 28 Fuxing Rd, Haidian District, Beijing 100853, China (

© 2012 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.