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Your body needs nutrition to stay strong and help you live a healthy life. If you're unable to eat, or if you have an illness that makes it hard to swallow food, you may need a feeding tube. The tube is placed in the stomach and is used to give food, liquids, and medicines.
Depending on why you need a feeding tube, you may have it for several weeks or months or longer.
When you first get a feeding tube, your biggest challenge may be your new relationship with food. For many people, eating and savouring food is one of the most pleasing parts of daily life. You may grieve the loss of the daily habit of eating and the social aspects of sharing food with others.
If you've struggled to get enough nutrition—if it's been hard to eat or swallow—having a feeding tube can help you regain your health and strength. And understanding how a feeding tube works is a first step toward dealing with changes that come with having the tube. It can also help you avoid common problems that can occur.
After surgery to insert a feeding tube, you'll have a 15 to 30 centimetre (6 to 12 inch) tube coming out of your belly. The tube is about the same width as a pen.
There are different ways the tube can be used for feeding. Your doctor will help you decide which is best for you and how often feedings should occur.
A syringe is connected to the tube. A nutritional mixture (formula) is put into the syringe and flows into the tube and your stomach. This is called bolus feeding.
Formula is placed into a special bag that is hung on a hook or a pole. The height and weight of the bag make the food flow down the tube and into your stomach.
A pump is used to push formula from a bag through the tube. This is also called continuous feeding.
It's important that the food you use for tube feeding has the right blend of nutrients for you. And the food needs to be the correct thickness so the tube doesn't clog. For most people, a liquid formula that you can buy in a can works best for tube feeding. Your doctor or dietitian will help you find the right formula to use.
Each time you use the tube for feeding:
A blocked tube can happen when the tube isn't flushed or when formula or medicines are too thick.
Don't try to put the tube back in by yourself. Call your doctor or nurse advice line right away. The tube needs to be replaced before the opening in your belly closes, which can happen within hours.
A tube that leaks may be blocked, or it may not fit right. After checking the tube and flushing it to make sure that the tube isn't blocked, call your doctor or nurse advice line.
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Current as of: March 1, 2023
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.
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