Gastrointestinal dysmotility: evidence and clinical management

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Purpose of review

Gastrointestinal dysmotility and dysfunction underlie our difficulties in providing adequate nutrition by the enteral route to our critically ill patients.

Recent findings

Recent studies have quantified gastric emptying and nutrient absorption. Slow gastric emptying is common and probably mediated by cholecystokinin and reduced active ghrelin concentrations. The cause of impaired nutrient absorption is not yet fully understood but may be related to small intestinal blood flow and/or mucosal factors. The absorption of the different macronutrients may be affected in different ways both by critical illness and by therapies. A better understanding of this may optimize the design of nutrient formulations in the future. New treatment modalities for gastrointestinal dysfunction are being investigated and include small intestinal feeding, nonpharmacological options such as acupuncture, and drugs including novel motilin receptor agonists, and opioid antagonists.


We are gradually developing a better understanding of how the gut works during critical illness, which has implications for optimizing the delivery of nutrition and thereby improving nutritional and clinical outcomes.

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