Short Bowel Syndrome is a Full Time Job

C Belza et al. J Pediatr 2022; 250: 75-82. Carrying the Burden: Informal Care Requirements by Caregivers of Children with Intestinal Failure Receiving Home Parenteral Nutrition

This was a cross-sectional study of caregivers of children (n=34) with intestinal failure receiving long-term parenteral nutrition. 97% of caregivers were the child’s mother and median duration of providing care among respondents was 3.4 years.

Key findings:

  • Caregivers reported a median of 29.2 hours per week (IQR, 20.8-45.7 hours per week) of direct medical care. 6.1 hours was spent on providing PN and care of the central venous catheter. 6.3 hours was spent on enteral nutrition and enteral tube care.

In the associated editorial (pgs 10-12 by S Mauskar, JG Berry. Open Access! “Failing to Support Families’ Burden of Care for Children with Intestinal Failure“), the authors note that in the U.S. there has been a growing population of children at home with greater medical complexity and reliance on medical technology and that the need for home nursing support “greatly exceeds the supply, leaving many families on their own to care for their children.”

They also note that the medical literature (over the last 25 years) on caregiver burden for children notes it is associated with “marital discord, loss of employment, and financial struggle…In the U.S. a substantial portion of children with medical complexity assisted with technology live in single-parent households, in poverty, and are exposed to adverse childhood events…very vulnerable to the effects of high caregiving burden.”

My take: This study shows that while we have an effective treatment for intestinal failure, the burden of this treatment is very high even with care coordination and social worker help. Understanding this burden could help medical providers be more empathetic for the family who is struggling with home medical care (eg. child with recurrent admissions for central line infections).

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