Your body needs nutrition to stay strong and help you live a healthy life. If you're unable to eat, or if you have an illness that makes it hard to swallow food, you may need a feeding tube. The tube is surgically inserted into your stomach and is used to give food, liquids, and medicines.
Depending on why you need a feeding tube, you may have it for several weeks or months or for the rest of your life. Having a feeding tube means learning new skills and adopting new routines. You'll need to learn how to use and care for the tube, and how to avoid common problems.
Tube feeding is also called artificial feeding or enteral nutrition. It supplies nutrition and liquids when you're unable to eat or drink. It's done by surgically inserting a tube into the stomach. The surgery is called percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG). The tube is called a G-tube or PEG tube.
During PEG, the doctor makes a small cut (incision) in your belly. Then he or she puts the feeding tube into your mouth and guides it down your throat and into your stomach. One end of the tube is pulled out of your belly through the incision. This end of the tube will stay outside your body. The other end will stay in your stomach.
You'll have about 6 to 12 inches of tubing outside your body. The tube is about the same width as a pen.
Instead of a G-tube, you may instead get a tube that's placed in the first part of the small intestine. This is called a jejunostomy tube or J-tube.
Tubes last about 1 year. If the tube needs to be replaced, the doctor will do it.
There are a few different ways to do tube feedings. Your doctor will help you decide which is best for you and how often feedings should occur. Your options include:
When you first get a feeding tube, your doctor may suggest that you have a nurse or dietitian visit you at home to get you started. At first you may need a friend or family member to help you with your tube feedings. But with practice, you may be able to do it yourself.
The formula for my tube feeding can be given using a syringe, a gravity bag, or a pump.
Your doctor will help you decide which feeding option—a syringe, a gravity bag, or a pump—is right for you.
Formula for tube feeding can be given using a syringe, a gravity bag, or a pump.
Continue to Why?
Everything about a feeding tube can seem scary: the surgery itself, dealing with a tube coming out of your body, not being able to eat the way you used to. These are huge changes—there's no getting around it.
Your biggest challenge may be your new relationship with food. For many people, eating and savoring food is one of the most pleasing parts of daily life. You may grieve the loss of the daily habit of eating and the social aspects of sharing food with others.
If you've struggled to get enough nutrition—if it's been too hard to eat or swallow—having a feeding tube can help you regain your health and strength. And understanding how a feeding tube works is a first step toward dealing with these changes. It can also help you avoid common problems that can occur.
Learning all I can about tube feeding can help me avoid common problems.
The more you know about tube feeding, the easier it may be to avoid common problems and make it part of your daily life.
Continue to How?
It's important that the food you use for tube feeding have the right blend of nutrients for you. And the food needs to be the correct thickness so the tube doesn't clog. For most people, a milk shake type of formula that you can buy in a can works best for tube feeding. Your doctor or dietitian will help you find the right formula to use.
If my tube falls out, I can try to put it back in myself.
If the tube falls out, don't try to put it back in yourself. Call your doctor right away.
Keeping the feeding tube clean is the most important thing I need to know about tube care.
Keeping the feeding tube clean helps avoid problems like blockages.
Keeping the tube clean helps avoid problems like blockages.
Continue to Where?
Now that you have read this information, you are ready to use a feeding tube.
If you have questions about this information, take it with you when you visit your doctor. You may want to mark areas or make notes in the margins where you have questions.
A support group may help you cope. You can share your feelings and challenges. Ask your doctor about groups or other resources in your area.
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January 10, 2012
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Rhonda O'Brien, MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator
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