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Refeeding syndrome : physiological background and practical management


Refeeding problems have been recognised since the the liberation of starved communities under siege. The main clinical problems may relate to hypophosphataemia, hypomagnesaemia and hypokalaemia with a risk of sudden death; thiamine deficiency with the risk of Wernike’s encephalopathy/Korsakoff psychosis and sodium/water retention. The problems are greatest with oral/enteral feeding and especially with carbohydrate due to it increasing plasma insulin and thus glucose entry into cells. It is difficult to predict patients at risk of refeeding problems so there must be a high clinical suspicion on refeeding any malnourished patient (including any who have had no or very little nutrition for over 5 days). Generous vitamin and electrolyte supplementation may be given while monitoring closely and increasing the calorie intake reasonably rapidly from 10 to 20 kcal/kg/24 hours. Often patients in this category are not hungry, but over the course of a few days, the restoration of their appetite is an indication that the risks of refeeding have been managed and it is now safe to increase the feed aiming for repletion. If problems do occur, the feed should be slowed to the previous day’s amount, reduced further or rarely stopped while fluid and electrolyte issues are corrected.

  • nutrition support
  • nutrition
  • nutritional supplementation

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