BACKGROUND Bowel frequency in healthy children has been determined, but it is not well documented in critically ill children. The objectives of this prospective observational study were to determine if critical illness alters stool frequency in children and to identify risk factors that may increase or decrease stool frequency.

METHODS Stool frequency was assessed in children admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) over a five month period. The median daily number of bowel movements during admission to the PICU was compared to the patient's estimated number of bowel movements prior to illness. Stepwise linear regression was performed to determine which factors best predicted stool frequency in critically ill children.

RESULTS Daily stool frequency was significantly reduced (P < 0.001) during PICU stay (median = 0.5; interquartile: 0, 0.8) compared to preadmission stool frequency estimates (median = 2; interquartile: 1, 2.5). Covariates associated with an increase in stool frequency included male gender and length of stay in the PICU. Conversely, the administration of opioids decreased stool frequency.

CONCLUSIONS Bowel frequency was reduced by 75% in children admitted to the PICU. The use of opioids was associated with decreased bowel frequency. Male gender and increased PICU stay was associated with increased bowel frequency.

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