BACKGROUND: Previous work has shown that the administration of oral dietary supplements to patients who have undergone gastrointestinal surgery results in clinically significant short term benefits. AIMS: This study aimed firstly to re-evaluate these short term effects, and secondly to establish whether there are any long term benefits. SUBJECTS: One hundred patients admitted for elective moderate or major gastrointestinal surgery. METHODS: In the inpatient phase, patients were randomised to receive a normal ward diet postoperatively, or the same diet supplemented with an oral dietary supplement. In the outpatient phase, patients were further randomised to receive their home diet, or their home diet supplemented with the oral dietary supplement for four months. RESULTS: During the inpatient phase, patients treated with oral supplements had a significantly improved nutritional intake and lost less weight (2.2, 95% confidence interval (95% CI) 0.9 kg) compared with control patients (4.2 (0.78) kg, p < 0.001). Supplemented patients maintained their hand grip strength whereas control patients showed a significant reduction in grip strength (p < 0.01). Subjective levels of fatigue increased significantly above preoperative levels in control patients (p < 0.01) but not in the supplemented group. Twelve patients in the control group developed complications compared with four in the supplemented group (p < 0.05). In the outpatient phase, supplemented patients had improved nutrient intakes but there were no significant differences in indices of nutritional status or wellbeing between the groups. CONCLUSIONS: The prescription of oral dietary supplements to patients who have undergone gastrointestinal surgery results in clinically significant benefits. These benefits, however, are restricted to the inpatient phase.
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