Feeding Tube Awareness Week, sponsored by the Feeding Tube Awareness Foundation, is February 6-10, 2017.
Approximately a half a million people receive nutrition through a feeding tube. People of all ages get feeding tubes or nutrition support for a variety of reasons. Everybody’s situation is unique. Feeding tubes often get a bad reputation, and many people associate them with end of life measures or as an indicator of a poor prognosis. This is usually not the case. People with cancer and other diseases and conditions may need a feeding tube because they can’t eat enough to help them get the nutrition they need to live and get stronger. Nutrition is the fuel necessary for our bodies to be able to function. When we don’t get the nutrition we need, it can lead to serious health problems.
Facts about feeding tubes:
- Feeding tubes are placed to deliver nutrition, medications and/or fluids.
- The nutrition administered is a specialized liquid formula. This formula is similar to but different from the liquid nutrition sold at grocery stores. There are many types of formula and each one is nutritionally balanced to meet the needs of people with different conditions.
- People may receive all of their nutrition through the tube if they are unable to eat, or it is unsafe for them to eat or drink. Some people may only get feedings through the tube as a supplement to what they eat if they are not able to take in enough calories by mouth to maintain or gain weight. Sometimes the tube is placed as proactive measure when people are at risk for malnutrition because of their cancer or cancer surgery.
- Feeding tubes are sometimes placed only for medication and/or fluid administration. This is more common in children.
- Feedings are delivered through the tube by one of these 3 methods: pump (similar to an IV pump), syringe, or gravity bag (like an IV bag but not on a pump). Feedings can be given continuously (uninterrupted over several hours) or by bolus method, given over a shorter period of time but several times a day.
- The feeding tubes are placed into the stomach (gastric) or small intestine (duodenum or jejunum) either through the nose (naso) or through a small cut made in the skin (percutaneous). When a cut is made in the skin to place a tube, the opening is called an ostomy. The name of the ostomy indicates where it is located: gastrostomy (stomach) or jejunostomy (jejunum).
- Feeding tubes are placed for short-term or long-term use. Generally nasal tubes are placed for short term and percutaneous tubes are placed for longer term, usually 2 months or longer.
- Percutaneous feeding tubes are usually long tubes but sometimes a short tube, called a low profile tube or button, is placed. Buttons are more commonly used in children.
- Sometimes tubes used for feedings are used for the drainage of fluids or air instead of for delivering nutrition.
- Feeding tubes can get clogged easily so flushing them with water is very important whether using them or not. There are certain guidelines for caring for the feeding tubes. Go to Introduction to Nutrition Therapy by Tube or IV for more details.
10 Questions to ask your doctor:
1. What kind of tube will I have and who will put it in?
2. How long will I have the tube?
3. What are the benefits and complications of having a feeding tube?
4. Will I have a pump?
5. What will I be getting in my tube?
6. Who will monitor how I’m doing with my feedings?
7. Will I get a home health nurse to help me when I get home?
8. Who will order my supplies?
9. Who will educate me about the tube?
10. Who do I call if there’s a problem and when do I need to call?
Additional Educational Resources:
This website addresses everything related to feeding tubes. While this site is focused more on the pediatric patient, many of the educational resources are also applicable to adults.
Oley’s website has information and resources for people of any age who get nutrition through a feeding tube or IV. The numerous resources include tips, a feeding tube troubleshooting guide and newsletters. There is also an online community on Inspire.
Great education about feeding tubes and nutrition whether you have oral cancer or another type of cancer.
American College of Surgeons created this program in collaboration with many other professional organizations to provide a feeding tube skills book and video.
Coram has patient education on feeding tubes and nutrition.
Shield’s Nutrition community has many videos for feeding tube care as well as other resources.
AND provides information on feeding tubes such as the linked article, “Protocol Used To Unclog an Enteral Feeding Tube.”
Check out the UPMC’s video on “Caring for Your Feeding Tube.”
Medline Plus from the National Institutes of Health has a wealth of information on nutrition support.