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Gut dysmotility in the ICU

diagnosis and therapeutic options

Plummer, Mark P.a,b; Reintam Blaser, Annikac,d; Deane, Adam M.a,b

Current Opinion in Critical Care: April 2019 - Volume 25 - Issue 2 - p 138–144
doi: 10.1097/MCC.0000000000000581
GASTROINTESTINAL SYSTEM: Edited by Constantine J. Karvellas

Purpose of review To provide a comprehensive update of diagnosis and treatment of gastrointestinal dysmotility in the critically ill, with a focus on work published in the last 5 years.

Recent findings Symptoms and clinical features consistent with upper and/or lower gastrointestinal dysmotility occur frequently. Although features of gastrointestinal dysmotility are strongly associated with adverse outcomes, these associations may be because of unmeasured confounders. The use of ultrasonography to identify upper gastrointestinal dysmotility appears promising. Both nonpharmacological and pharmacological approaches to treat gastrointestinal dysmotility have recently been evaluated. These approaches include modification of macronutrient content and administration of promotility drugs, stool softeners or laxatives. Although these approaches may reduce features of gastrointestinal dysmotility, none have translated to patient-centred benefit.

Summary ‘Off-label’ metoclopramide and/or erythromycin administration are effective for upper gastrointestinal dysmotility but have adverse effects. Trials of alternative or novel promotility drugs have not demonstrated superiority over current pharmacotherapies. Prophylactic laxative regimens to prevent non-defecation have been infrequently studied and there is no recent evidence to further inform treatment of established pseudo-obstruction. Further trials of nonpharmacological and pharmacological therapies to treat upper and lower gastrointestinal dysmotility are required and challenges in designing such trials are explored.

aIntensive Care Unit

bDepartment of Medicine and Radiology, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne Medical School, Royal Melbourne Hospital, Parkville, VIC, Australia

cDepartment of Anaesthesiology and Intensive Care, University of Tartu, Tartu, Estonia

dDepartment of Intensive Care, Lucerne Cantonal Hospital, Lucerne, Switzerland

Correspondence to Adam M. Deane, PhD, Intensive Care Unit, Royal Melbourne Hospital, 300 Grattan Street, Parkville, VIC 3050, Australia. Tel: +61 3 9342 9254; e-mail:

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