If you are a patient or you know a patient who has a new feeding tube, then you might have a lot of questions — you aren’t alone! Finding answers to your initial questions will ease your mind and remind you just how helpful feeding tubes can be!
1. Is there only one type of feeding tube?
There are many different types of feeding tubes, and each one has its own purpose. One type of feeding tube provides formula into the stomach, and another type of feeding tube can bypass the pyloric sphincter to infuse formula directly into the small intestine. There is even a type of feeding tube that has two ends, one that goes in the stomach and one that goes in the small intestine.
Feeding tubes are named by how they are placed in the body and where the end of the tube is located in the body. For example, if someone has a tube placed through his/her nose and the end of the tube is located in their stomach, it is called a nasogastric tube (“naso” for nose and “gastro” for stomach). If you have a feeding tube that was endoscopically placed and it is positioned in the stomach, then it is called a percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (or a PEG). Another kind of tube is called a jejunostomy – the end of this tube lies in the jejunum (the second part of the small intestine).
2. If someone has a feeding tube, will they ever be able to eat “real” food?
There are many different reasons why patients have feeding tubes, and some of these reasons make it difficult or dangerous to eat by mouth. However, this is not the case for everyone. Patients should consult with their doctor and/or a speech language pathologist to determine if swallowing food is safe for them. If an individual can eat by mouth safely, then he/she can eat food and supplement with tube feeding if necessary. Eating food will not cause damage to the tube, nor does having a feeding tube make it unsafe to eat.
3. Does a feeding tube stay in forever?
Feeding tubes are wonderful tools to help clients of all ages get the nutrition they need. Often, feeding tubes are placed temporarily to help patients overcome acute illnesses and/or surgeries. If a patient is going to have a feeding tube for longer than 4 weeks, it is typically recommended to place a more long-term tube, such as a PEG. For some individuals, feeding tubes may be a life-long feeding solution. Especially for those who may have altered GI systems, malabsorption issues, or a permanent swallowing risk, to name a few.
4. Do you have to stay in the hospital if you have a feeding tube?
Some patients who have feeding tubes are in the hospital and may be very sick. And some individuals with long-term feeding tubes are living at home and can still maintain an active lifestyle. Formula can be provided at a continuous rate (given over 24 hours) or given cyclic rate (e.g.,12 hours overnight). Others may be given a bolus feed, which is a larger amount given at specific times throughout the day. All of these are viable options, and the best formula regimen can be determined with the help of a registered dietitian.
5. What type of nutrition can be administered through a feeding tube?
Some patients require special formulas, but many want to consume real food. Formulas are convenient and helpful to some patients, but the options aren’t just limited to formulas for nutrition. A patient can blend up his/her meal into a thin mixture and deliver it right into the feeding tube without any formula. They receive all their nutrients from food just like those who eat by mouth. Food doesn’t lose its nutrition when it’s blended, so it’s a good option for those who can tolerate it. Be sure to consult with a registered dietitian, if you are interested in using blenderized food for your feeding tube.
Food doesn’t lose its nutrition when it’s blended, so it’s a good option for those who can tolerate it. Be sure to consult with a registered dietitian, if you are interested in using blenderized food for your feeding tube.
Juliette Soelberg, MS, RD, LDN works as a clinical dietitian, and her experience ranges from long- and short-term rehab to outpatient counseling to critical care. Kimberly Brown, MS, RD, LD is a clinical dietitian currently working at a 1000+ bed facility in Oklahoma. She has spent a majority of her career working in intensive care, including Level 1 trauma/burn, cardiothoracic, and medical ICU.
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