Managing The Intensive Care Unit (ICU) Experience: A Proactive Guide for Patients and Families


  • Audio for Nutrition


One of the biggest concerns that ICU patients and their families have is nutrition. It is a natural desire to make sure that people have enough to eat while they are ill. Oftentimes, patients in the ICU are unable to eat normally for a variety of reasons: they get too short of breath, they have no appetite, or they are receiving procedures or therapies that prevent them from eating. This does not mean that patients are not receiving nutrition in other ways.

We recommend you ask the following questions:

“Is my loved one able to receive nutrition today?”

“Is my loved one meeting their nutritional goals?”

“When do you anticipate my loved one being stable enough to receive tube feeds?”

Patients are often getting some nutrition just in the medications that they are receiving. Many medications are stored in sugar solutions that help give patients a small amount of nutrition. In addition, patients may also have a feeding tube that goes through their nose or mouth into their stomachs. This allows the medical team to feed patients with a special, highly nutritious liquid called “tube feeds.” Many ICUs have specialists who help manage nutrition plans. These specialists may be called “nutritionists” or “dietitians.”

Sometimes, patients are simply too ill to receive nutrition even through a feeding tube. This could be because they are requiring high doses of medication to support their blood pressure. In these cases, it is too dangerous for the medical team to feed the patient. As soon as it is safe to do so, the medical team will start nutritional support.

This Intensive Care Unit (ICU) guide for patients and families is intended to provide general information about adult ICUs. The guide is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for the advice or counsel of one’s personal healthcare provider.