NPO Diet

NPO is a type of diet people are placed on by their medical professionals. A NPO diet is most often seen in a hospital setting. Some patients can be placed on a NPO diet for just a short time while others may have to stay on it for a much longer time. The medical team will give instructions to the patient about what to do and not to do while NPO.


NPO is an abbreviation for the Latin phrase "nil per os," which means nothing by mouth. When you are labeled NPO by your doctor you cannot have anything that would go in your mouth including food, beverages and oftentimes medications. You can be made NPO for a variety of reasons including an upcoming surgery, medical procedure or test. You cannot have anything to eat or drink prior to surgery so honoring the NPO status is very important.

Gastrointestinal Diseases/Illnesses

You may be made NPO if you have a gastrointestinal illness or a disease that prevents you from having normal GI function. When you have nausea, vomiting and diarrhea that cannot be controlled you may have to be NPO to allow your gastrointestinal tract and bowels to rest. Patients with bowel obstructions are often NPO for the same reason. This makes sense because food cannot continue to go in if it cannot come back out.


You may be placed on NPO status after having a cerebrovascular accident, or stroke. Depending on the severity of the stroke you may not be able to chew and swallow your food safely, so you will need to be NPO until your swallowing abilities return. After a stroke you will be assessed for your swallowing ability. If you fail the initial swallowing screen, you will then be seen by a speech language pathologist who will further assess you and conduct a swallowing study to evaluate your safety for eating and drinking.

Difficulty Swallowing

If you have trouble swallowing you may be placed on NPO status until it is determined whether you can safely eat and drink. You may have medical reasons for having difficulty swallowing, or you may have lost some swallowing function as a result of aging. You will need to be on an NPO diet while tests are conducted to determine the problem, and then until you recover your normal swallowing abilities.

Time Frame

The length of time for NPO can vary. The most important factor is why you are NPO. If you are NPO for surgery then you will usually be taken off NPO shortly after your surgery has taken place and then your diet will advance to clear liquids, then semi-solid liquids and then solids as tolerated. Of course, this is not true for all surgical patients and the reason for surgery plays a large role in how long a patient must remain NPO.

Prolonged NPO

Sometimes a patient must remain on prolonged NPO because of his medical condition. It is okay for patients to be NPO for awhile, especially when they are under the supervision of medical professionals and are receiving fluids through an IV. However, after a period of time, usually seven to nine days, it is necessary for patients to begin getting solid nutrition again. When it is not okay for a patient to eat by mouth NPO support is considered a safe and appropriate alternative to meet patients' nutritional needs.