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Feeding tubes are medical devices used when a child or adult is unable to receive adequate nutrition by swallowing food or liquids. They may be used temporarily or permanently depending on the person and medical situation. There are a number of gastric feeding tubes used to address feeding issues. These include the nasogastric (NG) tube, the gastric (G) tube, the percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG) tube, and the (J) jejunostomy tube.
The nasogastric tube is typically used for patients who require temporary feeding support. Such tubes are not usually used for more than a couple of weeks at a time, as they can cause irritation in the nasal passages and other complications. The tube is passed through the nostrils, down into the esophagus, and further down into the stomach. Food and liquids are fed into the tube at predetermined intervals.
The gastric tube is a solution for longer term feeding needs. It is inserted through a small hole in the abdominal wall and guided into the stomach. While G tubes are appropriate for extended use, they still may need to be replaced periodically, and the entry site must be carefully monitored for breakdown and infection. A special type of G tube is the percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy tube. This type is placed surgically while the patient is under anesthesia, and is held in place by a dome or balloon inside the abdominal wall.
Jejunostomy tubes enter through the abdominal wall and are inserted into the small intestine. These types of tubes are typically used when patients have difficulty breaking down or digesting their food, or when the aspiration of food into the pulmonary cavity is a concern. Medications can also be passed through these types of gastric feeding tubes.
While complications with gastric feeding tubes are rare, they can be serious if not treated properly. The most common issues are irritation and infection around the tube site resulting from stomach acid or food leaks. Skin should be cleaned and lubricated regularly. In young children or adults with disabilities or dementia, tubes may be pulled on or dislodged. If this occurs, the tube must be replaced by a qualified professional.
Gastric feeding tubes may be indicated for a number of different reasons. In children, they are commonly used where failure to thrive has been diagnosed, or when the child is unable to eat food by mouth due to a severe developmental delay or physical disability. In adults, patients with dementia or other psychological disorders may be fed via tubes. Feeding tubes may also be necessary during end of life care in conditions like cancer.