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