What is a feeding tube?

A feeding tube may be needed for a patient who is unable to eat normally due to an injury.

A feeding tube is a medical tube that is inserted into the patient’s digestive tract and delivers liquid nutrients and medications to the body. This is recommended in patients who are unable to eat normally due to oral cancer, surgery, injury or another condition that affects the normal process of eating and digestion. A feeding tube can be placed at various locations along the digestive tract, depending on the patient’s needs. Common sites for tube insertion, or intubation, include the nose, stomach, and jejunum of the small intestine.

A feeding tube may be needed for a patient who is unable to eat normally due to a surgical operation.

If only needed for a short time, a feeding tube can be inserted through the opening in the nose and down the throat into the stomach. This is called a nasogastric tube or NG tube. Naso – refers to the nose and gastric refers to the stomach. Nasogastric intubation bypasses the mouth and throat and delivers nutrition and medication directly to the stomach. This procedure uses gravity to move fluid through the tube into the stomach and is common in patients with severe anorexia nervosa and cancer of the mouth or throat.

Rags are used to clean the area around a feeding tube.

A gastric tube, also called a G-tube or button, is surgically inserted through an incision in the belly. These tubes deliver food directly to the stomach and are used in patients who need long-term nourishment. These patients are often severely malnourished, have neurological problems that prevent swallowing, or have a physical blockage of digestion in the mouth or throat.

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A jejunostomy tube is typically used in patients with pancreatic disease or difficulty emptying the stomach.

The most common method of gastric intubation is percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG), a minimally invasive surgery that uses an endoscope to guide placement of the tube into the stomach. An endoscope is a flexible or rigid tube with a lighted viewing device that transmits images to a fiberscope or screen so that the doctor can see inside the body without performing open surgery. Insertion of the PEG tube usually takes about twenty minutes and causes little discomfort. The tube will have some mechanism near its end that prevents the tube from falling out of the belly. The tube usually cannot be seen through clothing and can be left in for up to six months.

Feeding a patient through an IV line can be referred to as overfeeding.

If the stomach is not suitable for a feeding tube, doctors may choose to give the patient a jejunostomy tube (J-tube). The J-tube is surgically inserted through the abdominal wall into the jejunum, the middle portion of the small intestine. The small intestine is the next organ after the stomach in the digestive tract and is used to break down and absorb food. Like a gastric tube, the surgery can be done endoscopically or as an open surgery.

Liquid tube feeding may be necessary for patients with bulimia.

Depending on the cause of the surgery, the patient may return home and administer food and medication independently. Nurses or doctors teach the patient how to use and maintain the feeding tube according to the specific case in question. In general, the tube and the skin around the tube should be cleaned daily with cotton or a cloth and soapy water. For the first four to six weeks, however, the patient should be careful not to get the area too wet when bathing. The probe should be rinsed with lukewarm water every six hours or after each feeding, as well as whenever a feed is interrupted.

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