TPN – Total Parenternal Nutrition

Gastrointestinal disorders often need Total Parenternal Nutrition (TPN).

This is because they are unable to obtain adequate nutrition through oral or enteral feeds. Here are some examples of disorders which may need this support:

  • Short Bowel Syndrome – definition to be added
  • Chronic Pseudo Obstruction – definition to be added
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease such as Crohn’s
  • Congenital abnormalities including Gastroschisis
  • Necrotising Enterocolitis in Premature Babies
  • Severe Liver Disease
  • Metabolic Disorders
  • Tumours
  • Fistula’s due to trauma or disease
  • Intracta

Parenteral nutrition (PN) is feeding a person intravenously, bypassing the usual process of eating and digestion. The person receives nutritional formulae that contain nutrients such as glucose, amino acids, lipids and added vitamins and dietary minerals. It is called total parenteral nutrition (TPN) or total nutrient admixture (TNA) when no significant nutrition is obtained by other routes. It may be called total peripheral nutrition (also TPN) when administered through vein access in a limb, rather than through a central port in body.

A mechanical pump under computer control is used to dispense the TPN fluid. Pumps are available that allow TPN administration at home, usually with the preparation and attachment by a family member. These pumps operate on an external dispensing line, part of a single-use dispensing cassette. Connection of the dispensing line to the patient is via a valve on a semi-permanent attached venous port whose closure is displaced by a connection on the dispensing line. Preparation, attachment, and valve replacement require care in sanitation and sterile techniques at specific locations. The use of a rechargeable battery and a portable component pack allows a convenient household mobility for many patients during administration periods, these being typically from twelve to sixteen hours a day.


Total parenteral nutrition (TPN) is provided when the gastrointestinal tract is nonfunctional because of an interruption in its continuity (it is blocked, or has a leak – a fistula) or because its absorptive capacity is impaired.It has been used for comatose patients, although enteral feeding is usually preferable, and less prone to complications. Parenteral nutrition is used to prevent malnutrition in patients who are unable to obtain adequate nutrients by oral or enteral routes.

Gastrointestinal disorders

TPN may be the only feasible option for providing nutrition to patients who do not have a functioning gastrointestinal tract or who have disorders requiring complete bowel rest, including bowel obstruction, short bowel syndrome, Gastroschisis, prolonged diarrhoea regardless of its cause, high-output fistula, very severe Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, and certain pediatric GI disorders including congenital GI anomalies and necrotizing enterocolitis.


Short-term PN may be used if a person’s digestive system has shut down (for instance by peritonitis), and they are at a low enough weight to cause concerns about nutrition during an extended hospital stay. Long-term PN is occasionally used to treat people suffering the extended consequences of an accident, surgery, or digestive disorder. PN has extended the life of children born with nonexistent or severely deformed organs.


TPN is an artificial method of feeding, fully by-passing the GI tract. This unnatural way of feeding the body is far from perfect and comes with several significant complications


TPN requires a chronic IV access for the solution to run through, and the most common complication is infection of this catheter. Infection is a common cause of death in these patients, with a mortality rate of approximately 15% per infection, and death usually results from septic shock. Contrary to common belief, evidence suggests that moderate amounts of intravenous lipid rich in linoleic acid are not associated with an increased incidence of bacterial or fungal infections in immunosuppressed patients receiving total parenteral nutrition.

Blood clots

Chronic IV access leaves a foreign body in the vascular system, and blood clots on this IV line are common. Death can result from pulmonary embolism wherein a clot that starts on the IV line but breaks off and goes into the lungs.

Patients under long-term TPN will typically receive a periodic heparin flush to dissolve such clots before they become dangerous.

Other complications

Total parenteral nutrition increases the risk of acute cholecystitis due to complete disuse of gastrointestinal tract, which may result in bile stasis in the gallbladder. Other potential hepatobiliary dysfunctions include steatosis, steatohepatitis, cholestasis, and cholelithiasis. Six percent of patients on TPN longer than 3 weeks and 100% of patients on TPN longer than 13 weeks develop biliary sludge. The formation of sludge is the result of stasis due to lack of enteric stimulation and is not due to changes in bile composition. Gallbladder sludge disappears after 4 weeks of normal oral diet. Administration of exogenous cholecystokinin (CCK) or stimulation of endogenous CCK by periodic pulse of large amounts of amino acids have been shown to help prevent sludge formation. These therapies are not routinely recommended.[14] Such complications are suggested to be the main reason for mortality in people requiring long-term total parenteral nutrition, such as in short bowel syndrome. In newborn infants with short bowel syndrome with less than 10% of expected intestinal length, thereby being dependent upon total parenteral nutrition, 5 year survival is approximately 20%.

Complications are either related to catheter insertion, or metabolic, including refeeding syndrome. Catheter complications include pneumothorax, accidental arterial puncture, and catheter-related sepsis. The complication rate at the time of insertion should be less than 5%. Catheter-related infections may be minimised by appropriate choice of catheter and insertion technique. Metabolic complications include the refeeding syndrome characterised by hypokalemia, hypophosphatemia and hypomagnesemia. Hyperglycemia is common at the start of therapy, but can be treated with insulin added to the TPN solution. Hypoglycaemia is likely to occur with abrupt cessation of TPN. Liver dysfunction can be limited to a reversible cholestatic jaundice and to fatty infiltration (demonstrated by elevated transaminases). Severe hepatic dysfunction is a rare complication. Overall, patients receiving TPN have a higher rate of infectious complications. This can be related to hyperglycemia. TPN was considered to be a dangerous form of therapy. Critical review of the data suggests that, in humans, TPN does not cause mucosal atrophy or increase bacterial translocation. Increased sepsis with TPN can be ascribed to overfeeding; the dangers of TPN-induced complications have been exaggerated. TPN is an equally effective alternative to EN when a risk of malnutrition is present and EN is not tolerated or when gut failure is present.


The nutrient solution consists of water and electrolytes; glucose, amino acids, and lipids; essential vitamins, minerals and trace elements are added or given separately. Previously lipid emulsions were given separately but it is becoming more common for a “three-in-one” solution of glucose, proteins, and lipids to be administered.

Solutions for total parenteral nutrition may be customized to individual patient requirements, or standardized solutions may be used. The use of standardized parenteral nutrition solutions is cost effective and may provide better control of serum electrolytes.[26] Ideally each patient is assessed individually before commencing on parenteral nutrition, and a team consisting of specialised doctors, nurses, clinical pharmacists and Registered Dietitians evaluate the patient’s individual data and decide what PN formula to use and at what infusion rate.

For energy only, intravenous sugar solutions with dextrose or glucose are generally used. This is not considered to be parenteral nutrition as it does not prevent malnutrition when used on its own. Standardized solutions may also differ between developers. Following are some examples of what compositions they may have. The solution for normal patients may be given both centrally and peripherally.