Nutrition Assessment in Respiratory Care Illustration

Nutrition Assessment in Respiratory Care (Practice Questions)

by | Updated: Apr 4, 2024

How is a nutrition assessment relevant in the field of respiratory care? That’s probably what you’re thinking, right?

“I want to be a respiratory therapist, so why do I need to know about a patient’s nutritional status?”

That’s a valid question.

But, consider this:

Nutrition is vital to life, just like oxygen.

You can only go so long without oxygen, and you can only go so long without proper food and nutrients.

This article breaks down the methods, implications, and clinical relevance of conducting thorough nutrition assessments in the realm of respiratory care, including helpful practice questions on this topic.

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What is a Nutrition Assessment?

A nutrition assessment is a comprehensive evaluation designed to gauge a patient’s overall nutritional health. Although Registered Dietitians (RDs) primarily conduct these assessments, it’s crucial for respiratory therapists to be well-versed in this area too. That’s because certain cardiopulmonary conditions can elevate a patient’s energy needs, impacting the effectiveness of other therapeutic interventions.

Proper nutrition is integral to respiratory care, as oxygen facilitates the cellular metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.

These nutrients are then transformed into the energy essential for the optimal functioning of the body’s major organs and systems.

Best Diet for Patients with a Respiratory Condition

In general, a balanced diet rich in essential nutrients can be beneficial for individuals with respiratory conditions.

However, a patient’s dietary needs may vary depending on the specific respiratory condition, the stage of the disease, and other co-morbidities.

Here are some general dietary guidelines often recommended for patients with respiratory conditions:

Nutrients to Focus On

  • Protein: Essential for repairing tissues and supporting immune function.
  • Vitamins: Especially A, C, and D. Vitamin A supports lung health, Vitamin C boosts the immune system, and Vitamin D helps in calcium absorption and immune function.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Found in fatty fish, these can help reduce inflammation.
  • Antioxidants: Found in fruits and vegetables, they can help fight oxidative stress, which is often elevated in respiratory conditions.
  • Complex Carbohydrates: Whole grains, fruits, and vegetables can provide lasting energy and fiber, which can be beneficial for maintaining weight and energy levels.

Foods to Avoid

  • Salty Foods: Excess salt can lead to water retention and exacerbate breathing difficulties.
  • Processed Foods: These can be high in sodium and sugar, which may not be ideal for respiratory conditions.
  • Certain Fats: Trans fats and saturated fats may contribute to inflammation.
  • Simple Sugars: May contribute to weight gain, thereby adding to respiratory stress.
  • Caffeine: Some individuals find that it can exacerbate symptoms, although this varies from person to person.

Weight Management

  • Underweight: Respiratory muscle strength can be compromised, and immunity can be reduced. Energy-dense foods can be beneficial.
  • Overweight: Excess weight can put additional pressure on the lungs and diaphragm, making breathing more difficult. A balanced diet that facilitates weight loss can be helpful.

Fluid Intake

Adequate hydration is essential, but too much fluid can cause water retention, making breathing more difficult.

Consult with a healthcare provider for personalized advice.

Special Cases

  • COPD: Higher protein intake may be recommended, along with more frequent but smaller meals.
  • Asthma: A diet rich in antioxidants, Omega-3 fatty acids, and certain vitamins may be beneficial.

Remember: Because each individual’s needs may differ significantly, it is critical to consult healthcare providers like dietitians and pulmonologists for tailored advice.

Nutrition Assessment Healthy Foods for Lungs Vector Illustration

Nutrition Assessment Practice Questions

1. What is the definition of a nutrition assessment?
The process of collecting and evaluating data to determine the nutrition status of an individual

2. Nutrition assessment is the basis for developing what?
A nutrition care plan

3. What are the components of a nutrition assessment?
Dietary history, anthropometry, biochemical indicators, nutrition-focused physical assessment, and client history

4. What is BMI?
BMI is used to compare a patient’s weight and height to determine if they’re underweight, overweight, obese, or at a healthy weight.

5. What are the classifications of undernutrition, called protein-energy malnutrition?
Kwashiorkor, marasmus, and a combination of the two (lack of circulating protein, starvation, and a mixture of the two)

6. Laboratory values of albumin, transferrin, transthyretin, and retinal-binding protein may indicate what?

7. CRP may be elevated when?
During acute illness, indicating an inflammatory response and causing low values of serum proteins

8. The creatinine-height index reflects what?
Skeletal muscle mass

9. Nitrogen balance compares protein intake to what?
Nitrogen excretion in the urine

10. Observable signs in hair, eyes, lips, mouth and gums, skin, and nails may indicate what?

11. Resting energy expenditure (REE) may be determined by what?
The predictive equations or indirect calorimetry

12. Estimation of total caloric need involves what?
It involves multiplying the REE by a factor that accounts for activity and stressors.

13. An RQ greater than 1.00 indicates what?
Overfeeding and the need to decrease total calories

14. An RQ between the ranges of 0.67 to 1.3 should be used as what?
An indicator of test validity

15. What is malnutrition?
It is a state of impaired metabolism in which the intake of essential nutrients is less than the body’s needs.

16. What is marasmus?
Malnutrition associated with inadequate nutrient intake (starvation), and kwashiorkor is the hypercatabolic form

17. How can malnutrition affect the respiratory system?
By causing loss of respiratory muscle mass and contractility, decreased ventilatory drive, impaired immune response, and alterations in lung parenchymal structure

18. Approximately one-third of all patients with acute respiratory failure have malnutrition, mainly in the hypercatabolic form; these patients are prone to what?
Hypercapnia; and they can be difficult to wean from ventilatory support and have higher mortality rates than patients with a normal nutrition status

19. In chronic lung disease, the combined effect of increased energy expenditure (secondary to increased work of breathing) and inadequate caloric intake contributes to what?
A marasmus-type malnutrition

20. The primary goal of nutrition support is to maintain or restore lean body (skeletal muscle) mass in what two ways?
(1) Meeting the overall energy needs of the patient and (2) Providing the appropriate combination of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate, and fat) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals); Nutrition support also attenuates the metabolic response to stress, prevents oxidative cellular injury, and modulates the immune response

21. Most patients require what balance of macronutrients?
Most patients need 20% of their daily calories from protein, 50% to 60% from simple carbohydrates, and 20% to 30% from fat.

22. Nutrients can be supplied enterally (oral and tube feeding) or parenterally (peripheral or central venous alimentation). Which route is preferred?
The enteral route should be used whenever possible.

23. What is calorimetry, and when is it used?
It is the estimation of energy expenditure by measurement of oxygen consumption and CO2 production. It is used when you want to assess the patient’s metabolic state, to determine nutrition needs, or to assess response to nutrition therapy.

24. What is a comprehensive nutrition assessment?
The purpose of this is to gather data to develop a nutrition care plan that ensures adequate nutrition for health and well-being when implemented.

25. How to calculate and interpret BMI?
A healthy BMI is 18.5-24.9 for adults and between the 10th and 85 percentile for children. To calculate body mass index, BMI = actual body weight (kg)/ height^2 (in^2).

26. How to estimate daily resting energy expenditure?
By using predicted equations such as the Harris Benedict Equation

27. How can you avoid aspiration during enteral feedings?
To avoid pulmonary aspiration, raise the head of the bed 45 degrees; also, you can use saxing and the continuous drip method

28. How are the results of indirect calorimetry interpreted?
The results are used to assess the patient’s metabolic status and plan nutritional support. The first step is to compare REE. If it is within 10% predicted, it’s considered normometabolic. The second step is to interpret the RQ.

29. How can you obtain and evaluate a patient’s nutrition history?
Review the patient’s chart

30. How are resting energy expenditure values adjusted to reflect a patient’s actual energy needs?
Energy needs vary according to activity level and state of health

31. How does respiratory medication interact with food?
As a respiratory therapist, you should correlate treatments in between feedings.

32. What are the effects of malnutrition on the respiratory system?
One-third of patients with respiratory failure have malnutrition. This can cause a loss of diaphragmatic and accessory muscle mass and contractility, decreased hypoxic and hypercapnic response, decreased lung clearance mechanisms, decreased secretory IgA, increased bacterial colonization, and a reduced production of surfactant.

33. What is SIRS?
It stands for systemic inflammatory response syndrome. It underlies critical illnesses such as sepsis and ARDS. It can cause a 25% decrease in protein which leads to a lean body and anorexia.

34. What should the respiratory therapist observe clinically in malnourished patients?
Physical findings often appear first in selected tissues such as hair, eyes, lips, mouth, gums, skin, and nails. However, in addition to malnutrition, other causes of these abnormalities include medical therapies, anemia, allergies, sunburn, medication, and poor hygiene. Patients with severe malnutrition often appear very thin to the point where their bones are sticking out.

35. Which essential nutrients are important to monitor in patients?
Carbohydrates, protein, lipids, vitamins, minerals, and water

36. What is the purpose of a nutrition assessment?
To develop a nutrition care plan that ensures continual adequate nutrition for health

37. What is the BMI for a healthy adult?

38. What is the BMI for a healthy child?
10th-85th percentile

39. What causes marasmus?
Prolonged, extreme lack of calories and protein associated with food shortage, early weaning, or infrequent feeding of infants

40. What are the characteristics of marasmus?
It is typically seen in children 6 to 18 months of age who are residing in impoverished areas of the world. They tend to have “matchstick arms” and a noticeable lack of muscle and fat.

41. What causes kwashiorkor?
The lack of eating enough protein and other essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients

42. What are the characteristics of kwashiorkor?
A protruding belly and edematous face and limbs

43. What causes the protruding belly and edematous face and limbs in a kwashiorkor baby?
Decreased plasma proteins needed to maintain fluid balance and transport fat out of the liver

44. PEM may be reflected in low values for?
Albumin, transthyretin (prealbumin), and retinol-binding protein

45. What is a great prognostic indicator?

46. What is the largest constituent protein in plasma?

47. Why is the usefulness of albumin limited in monitoring the effectiveness of nutrition in the critical care setting?
Because its half-life is only 14 to 21 days

48. What is the most commonly used biomarker of inflammation?
C-reactive protein (CRP)

49. What happens to C-reactive protein when infection or inflammation is present?
It increases

50. What happens to albumin and prealbumin when infection or inflammation is present?
It decreases

51. What reflects skeletal muscle mass?
The amount of creatinine excreted in the urine

52. The amount of nitrogen excretion in the urine is typically measured as what?
The 24-hour urinary urea nitrogen

53. What is common in malnutrition, especially the kwashiorkor type?
Impaired immunity

54. What is the classic measure of energy called?
Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)

55. When is basal metabolic rate obtained?
It can be obtained after 10 hours of fasting.

56. How is basal metabolic rate measured?
The number of calories expended at rest per square meter of body surface per hour

57. The estimation of energy expenditure by measurement of oxygen consumption and CO2 production is called what?
Indirect calorimetry

58. What is the biggest problem with indirect calorimetry?
The machine has to be calibrated, and there are leaks.

59. Why can nutritional disorders not be diagnosed from a single laboratory value?
Because, by themselves, they are not sufficiently sensitive or specific to diagnose malnutrition. Instead, laboratory test results are used with other data as part of a holistic assessment of a patient’s nutritional status.

60. An increased metabolism associated with inflammation causes a 25% decrease in protein synthesis, which results in what?
It results in a loss of lean body mass.

61. In a proinflammatory state, the combination of inflammation and hypoalbuminemia is linked to what?
Increased morbidity, mortality, and longer hospitalization

62. Although predictive equations are useful in calculating a patient’s energy expenditure needs, they do not always replace the need for performing what?
Indirect calorimetry, which is generally more accurate and provides additional information, including a calculation of the RQ.

63. Fifty percent of hospitalized patients present with what?
Secondary PEM

64. You should begin enteral nutrition within how long after intubation?
24 to 48 hours

65. How does malnutrition affect the respiratory system?
It causes a loss of respiratory muscle mass and diminishes the ability of the diaphragm to contract. It decreases the ventilatory drive and causes an impaired immune response.

Final Thoughts

Nutritional assessment is not merely an adjunct but an integral component of comprehensive respiratory care.

A targeted nutrition evaluation is vital for identifying risk factors, tailoring treatment plans, and ultimately, improving the quality of life and outcomes for patients with respiratory conditions.

Implementing routine nutritional screenings and using the data to guide treatment can be a life-altering practice, positively affecting morbidity and mortality rates.

With respiratory diseases being a leading cause of death worldwide, it is imperative that healthcare providers embrace the importance of nutrition assessment to foster a more holistic approach to respiratory care.

John Landry, BS, RRT

Written by:

John Landry, BS, RRT

John Landry is a registered respiratory therapist from Memphis, TN, and has a bachelor's degree in kinesiology. He enjoys using evidence-based research to help others breathe easier and live a healthier life.


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  • Jardins, Des Terry. Cardiopulmonary Anatomy & Physiology: Essentials of Respiratory Care. 7th ed., Cengage Learning, 2019.
  • Rrt, Des Terry Jardins MEd, and Burton George Md Facp Fccp Faarc. Clinical Manifestations and Assessment of Respiratory Disease. 8th ed., Mosby, 2019.

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