What is a Feeding Tube? - Types & Complications

Instructor: Virginia Rawls

Virginia has a master' degree in Education and a bachelors in Sports Medicine/athletic Training

In this lesson, you will learn about the function of feeding tubes. You will also become familiar with various types of tubes and how they are inserted, as well as identify the potential complications that could arise from having this device.

What is a Feeding Tube?

A feeding tube is a medical device that delivers nutrients to patients who cannot eat on their own. This device can be used in children as well as adults.

There are many conditions in which patients are unable to eat:

  • Babies born with birth defects of the upper digestive tract (mouth, esophagus, or stomach)
  • Those who have tumors that block the upper digestive tract
  • Patients who have cancer anywhere in the upper digestive tract
  • Patients who have had recent surgery on the upper digestive tract
  • Patients who are on medications that cause them not to be hungry

The tube is made out of a soft, bendable plastic. Both ends of the plastic are either coiled, or contain small balloons, to keep them from slipping out of place.

How is a Feeding Tube Inserted?

The most common type of temporary feeding tube is the NG tube. This tube is placed through the nose and travels past the back of the mouth, through the esophagus, and into the stomach. This is called an NG (nasogastric) tube because it runs from the nose to the stomach (gastric area). This procedure can be done while the patient is awake. Placement of the device is a little uncomfortable, but once in place the patient will feel no pain.

NG
NG Tube Diagram

The most common type of permanent feeding tube is the PEG tube. This tube is placed through the skin directly into the stomach. Okay, get ready. I am going to throw some serious medical terminology your way. If the procedure is going to be done through the skin, it is called a PEG (percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy).

Let's break down what this really means…

  • Percutaneous means through the skin
  • Endoscopic means that it is placed while the surgeon watches on a camera. The surgeon inserts a tiny camera through the patient's mouth, down the esophagus, and into the stomach. The surgeon watches the camera screen as he is making the incision, and placing the tube into the stomach. This will ensure that the tube is placed correctly.
  • Gastrostomy means an incision into the stomach

A PEG is either done in the operating room, or at the patient's bedside if he is too sick and is unable to be taken to the OR. The patient is anesthetized during the procedure so that he feels no pain while is it being put in. Once the tube is in place, the patient will not feel any pain.

PEG
PEG Tube Diagram

Types of Feeding Tubes

It would be impossible to give you the types of feeding tubes without getting technical again. Since there are several different types of feeding tubes, I will try to keep this section brief and to the point:

PEG tube - percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy tube, placed from skin directly through the abdomen and into the stomach, long term usage, done surgically

NG tube - nasogastric tube, placed from nose to the stomach (gastric area), short term usage, not surgically placed

ND tube - nasoduodenal tube, placed from nose to the duodenum (first portion of the intestines), can be for short term or long term usage, not surgically placed

NJ tube - nasojejunal tube, placed from nose to the jejunum (second portion of the small intestines), can be for short term or long term usage, not surgically placed

J tube - jejunostomy tube, placed from the skin directly through the abdomen and into the jejunum (second portion of the small intestines), long term usage, done surgically

GJ tube - gastrojejunal tube, placed from stomach to the jejunum (second portion of the small intestines), bypasses the duodenum (first portion of the intestines), long term usage, done surgically

Complications of Feeding Tubes

The placement of feeding tubes, regardless of type, have very high success rates. Even though these procedures are usually done very successfully, there is still the possibility for complications to arise. A complication is a negative effect that results from having a procedure done.

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