1. Patients suffering trauma and sepsis are insulin resistant, but no studies have specifically been made of patients suffering multiple organ failure.

2. We have studied exogenous glucose utilization in multiple organ failure using a combination of the hyperglycaemic glucose clamp and indirect calorimetry to quantify glucose utilization in multiple organ failure, partitioning it into oxidative and non-oxidative disposal (storage).

3. Fourteen septic patients with multiple organ failure were studied. APACHE II (Acute Physiological and Chronic Health Evaluation Mark II) scores on the day of the study ranged from 11 to 31 (median 16). Twenty percent d-glucose was infused and blood glucose was clamped at 12 mmol/l for 3 h. The results were compared with those obtained on seven healthy control subjects.

4. Glucose utilization and energy expenditure were similar in the two groups for the first 90 min of the clamp, after which glucose utilization and energy expenditure increased steadily in the control subjects but did not change in the patients. Respiratory exchange ratio rose in both groups; considered over the whole of the clamp period, respiratory exchange ratio was slightly lower in the patients than in the control subjects (P < 0.05) but not at any specific time point. Glucose oxidation rose in both groups but non-oxidative glucose disposal (storage) rose only in the control subjects. Glucose oxidation was slightly lower in the patients (P < 0.05) but not at any specific time point and there was no difference between the groups in the amount by which glucose oxidation increased. Non-oxidative disposal in the patients fell significantly (P < 0.01) over the course of the clamp and was significantly lower than in the control subjects (P < 0.01)

5. Growth hormone increased in response to glucose infusion in the patients but not in the control subjects.

6. Like patients suffering uncomplicated sepsis or trauma, patients with multiple organ failure are also insulin resistant. The defect appears to lie in an impairment of the ability to store glucose rather than oxidize it, and this may be due in part to the increase in growth hormone in patients with multiple organ failure.

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