• The reliability of skin testing to assess the nutritional state was evaluated in 257 patients who received total parenteral nutrition (TPN). The nutritional state was assessed by determining body composition, by multiple-isotope dilution. Immunocompetence was simultaneously evaluated by skin testing with five recall antigens. These measurements were carried out before and at two-week intervals during TPN. A statistically significant relationship existed between the response to skin testing and the nutritional state. A body composition consistent with malnutrition was present in the anergic patients, while body composition was normal in the patients who reacted normally to skin testing. However, a considerable overlap existed as 43% of the reactive patients were malnourished, and 21% of the anergic patients were normally nourished. Thirty-seven (43%) of the 86 anergic patients converted and became reactive during TPN, and their body composition improved significantly. The remaining 49 anergic patients (57%) did not convert, and their body composition did not change despite similar nutritional support. The principal difference between the two groups of anergic patients was the nature of the therapy administered. In the anergic patients who converted, therapy was aggressive and appropriate, and clinical improvement occurred in 23 (62.2%) of the patients, with a mortality of 5.4%. In the 49 patients who remained anergic, therapy was often inappropriate or unsuccessful, with clinical improvement in only three (6.1%) of the patients and a mortality of 42.8%. The data demonstrated a significant relationship between the response to skin testing and the nutritional state. However, because of the wide overlap, skin testing does not accurately assess a person's nutritional state. The persistence of the anergic state is indicative of a lack of response to therapy.
(Arch Surg 1981;116:1284-1288)