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Content analysis of bowel protocols for the management of constipation in adult critically ill patients

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Joanna C. Dionne, Jennie Johnstone, Orla Smith, Louise Rose, Simon Oczkowski, Yaseen Arabi, Erick H. Duan, François Lauzier, Waleed Alhazzani, Norine Alam, Nicole Zytaruk, Josie Campisi, Deborah J. Cook

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)98-104
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Critical Care
Published1 Aug 2020

King's Authors


PURPOSE: Alterations in bowel habits are common during critical illness, and bowel protocols are gaining acceptance. Our objective was to characterize bowel protocols in a cross-sectional analysis of ICUs. MATERIALS AND METHODS: We engaged 44 adult ICUs and performed content analysis of bowel protocols, addressing initiation criteria, medications incorporated, medication escalation, discontinuation criteria, stool assessment methods, and protocol contraindications. RESULTS: Bowel protocols operated in 33/44 ICUs (79.5%). The commonest medications were senna (81.0%) and bisacodyl (75.6%). Less common agents were sodium phosphate (45.9%), glycerin (43.2%), docusate sodium (43.2%), polyethylene glycol 3350 (37.8%), lactulose (29.7%), sodium citrate (16.2%), milk of magnesia (13.5%) and mineral oil (16.2%). Bowel protocols were activated by nurses (62.8%) based on initiation criteria [no bowel movement for 24-96 h (35.1%), opioid use (18.9%), "at risk for constipation" (13.5%), stool on digital rectal exam (10.8%), feeding initiation (10.8%), and ICU admission (8.1%)]. Laxative escalation criteria included time from last bowel movement (59.4%), opioid use (18.9%) and no stool on digital rectal exam (10.8%), while 15 (40.5%) included diarrhea as a discontinuation criterion. CONCLUSIONS: Bowel protocols have variable initiation, escalation, and discontinuation criteria incorporating different classes of laxatives, reflecting unclear evidence about optimal bowel management strategies in ICU.

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