Enteral nutrition, also called tube feeding, is a method of feeding liquid nutrition through a tube placed into the stomach or small intestine. Tube feeding may be needed if you are very malnourished. It may also be needed if you are unable to swallow because of a medical condition, such as an injury to the face or neck, cancer of the mouth or throat, or a stroke. Some medical treatments may also make it hard for you to get enough nutrition, such as chemotherapy or radiation treatments for cancer.
Tube feedings are usually given through a gastrostomy tube (G-tube) placed directly into the stomach or small intestine through an incision in the belly. Temporary feeding tubes may also be used for tube feeding. They are passed through the nose or mouth into the stomach or past the stomach into the small intestine.
How can I take care of myself when I go home?
You or your caregiver will need to learn to give the feedings and care for the feeding tube. Your medical care team will teach you what you need to know to feel safe and comfortable taking care of the tube at home.
Your provider will give you a list of your medicines and tube feeding formula when you leave the hospital.
Know your medicines and formula. Know what they look like, how much you should take each time, how often you should take them, and why you take them.
Follow your providerâ€™s instructions exactly for taking your medicines and your formula through the feeding tube. Most liquid medicines can be given through the feeding tube with a syringe. It may also be possible to dissolve crushed tablets in water so they can be given through the feeding tube.
Always flush the feeding tube with water after putting medicines or food through it to prevent clogging the tube.
Carry a list of your medicines and formula in your wallet or purse. Include any nonprescription medicines and supplements on the list.
Your provider may prescribe medicine or other therapy to:
Treat or prevent an infection
Treat other medical problems
Treat or prevent side effects, such as nausea
Follow your providerâ€™s instructions for cleaning and caring for the G-tube site, including:
Wash your hands with soap and water before and after touching the area.
Use warm water and mild soap to clean around the tube site 2 to 3 times a day or as needed.
Make sure that you gently soak or scrub off all crusted areas on the skin around the tube and on the tube itself.
After cleaning, rinse around the area with plain water and pat dry.
You may use an antibiotic ointment around the site if the area looks red or sore.
Follow your providerâ€™s instructions for securing the G-tube, which may include:
Gently pulling on the tube to make sure that it has not moved deeper in or pulled out of the tube site
Placing a cotton roll on either side of the G-tube and taping the tube to the skin
Using an elastic wrap around the belly
Follow your providerâ€™s instructions for taking baths or showers, which will include:
Clamping the G-tube before bathing
Avoiding water that is too hot, which may irritate the skin at the tube site
Using only mild soaps and soft washcloths
Follow activity restrictions, such as not driving or operating machinery, as recommended by your healthcare provider or pharmacist, especially if you are taking pain medicines or muscle relaxants.
Follow your provider’s instructions for follow-up appointments.
Keep appointments for any routine testing you may need.
Talk with your provider about any questions or concerns you have.
Call emergency medical services or 911 if you have new or worsening:
The tube falls out.
Severe bleeding from your G-tube site
Bright red blood in your vomit or vomit that looks like coffee grounds
Call your healthcare provider if:
You are unable to take food or medicines through the tube
You have signs of infection around your tube site. These include:
The area around your tube is more red or painful
The area around your tube is very warm to touch
You have blood, pus, or other fluid coming from the tube area
You have chills or muscle aches
You have nausea or vomiting after feedings
You have abdominal cramps or pain or bloating
You have trouble breathing
You have frequent diarrhea
Developed by RelayHealth.
Acute Care Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth. Last modified: 2015-01-12 Last reviewed: 2015-01-07
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.