The Purpose of Tube Feeding
Tube feeding is the medical solution to getting nutrition into people who can’t swallow or otherwise get nutrition by mouth. In people with acute conditions, the feeding tube can be temporary. In those with chronic disability, the tube can be a lifelong alternative to eating.
A feeding tube is a long tube that can be either surgically or manually placed. Tubes are typically made of a very flexible polyurethane or silicone and come in various diameters.
There are three main types of feeding tubes: nasogastric (NG), gastrostomy (G) and jejunostomy (J). An NG-tube is inserted through the nose and into the stomach and is for short-term use. A G-tube is inserted surgically and passes from the outside of the body through the skin and into the stomach. A J-tube is surgically implanted directly into the upper intestine, bypassing the stomach.
There are three ways to administer feeding: electric pump, syringe and gravity bag. Each method is used for feeds that occur over various intervals of time.
The two major risks of tube feeding are aspiration from formula leaking into the lungs and bacterial contamination from a clogged tube. An NG-tube can irritate the throat, making normal swallowing painful. G-tubes and J-tubes can cause skin irritation where gastric juices leak around the site of the button.
Once patients have resumed normal eating habits, the tube should be removed. For G-tube and J-tube patients, the tube must be removed by a doctor so that the opening will close properly.