Intensive Care Medicine

, Volume 18, Issue 1, pp 38–41

Intestinal permeability in the critically ill


  • C. E. Harris
    • Intensive Care UnitWhiston Hospital
  • R. D. Griffiths
    • Intensive Care UnitWhiston Hospital
    • Department of MedicineUniversity of Liverpool
  • N. Freestone
    • School of Natural SciencesLiverpool Polytechnic
  • D. Billington
    • School of Natural SciencesLiverpool Polytechnic
  • S. T. Atherton
    • Intensive Care UnitWhiston Hospital
  • R. R. Macmillan
    • Intensive Care UnitWhiston Hospital

DOI: 10.1007/BF01706424

Cite this article as:
Harris, C.E., Griffiths, R.D., Freestone, N. et al. Intensive Care Med (1992) 18: 38. doi:10.1007/BF01706424


Alterations in intestinal permeability reflect one component of intestinal epithelial barrier function. The objective of this study was to assess the degree of derangement of intestinal permeability in critically ill patients and to investigate the relationship of this to markers of disease severity and sepsis. Sixteen patients admitted to the intensive care unit for a variety of problems were studied with the severity of illness and degree of sepsis recorded daily. A differential sugar absorption test, using lactulose and mannitol as markers, was performed, and in 10 patients this was repeated after an interval of between 4–11 days. The use of the lactulose/mannitol (L/M) ratio corrects for variables unrelated to permeability such as gastric emptying. The L/M ratio was significantly higher in patients (median 0.98) compared to normal controls (median 0.008). The ratios showed no relation to disease severity or sepsis. These results establish that increased intestinal permeability occurs in the general ICU patient but that it is not uniquely related to sepsis. The extent of this abnormality suggests that further study is required to show the various influences on this process.

Key words

Intestinal permeabilityIntensive careLactuloseMannitolDifferential sugar absorption

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1992