Enteral nutrition, also known as “tube feeding”, is a method of providing nutrition and hydration to individuals who are unable to consume adequate food orally or have limited gastrointestinal function. People with certain diagnoses including head and neck cancer, lung cancer, liver cancer, gastric cancer, and colorectal cancer are at the greatest risk for malnutrition and may benefit from enteral nutrition (World Health Organization, 2022).
Others may have suffered a brain injury or stroke, which may lead to dysphagia or the inability to swallow safely. Dysphagia is common after a stroke, and occurs in up to 50% of people which can lead to malnutrition, aspiration pneumonia, and dehydration (Geeganage et al., 2012). Malnutrition or risk for malnutrition can also occur with COPD, renal disease, inflammatory bowel disease, pancreatitis, and for those who are receiving care in the intensive care unit in a hospital setting (Bechtold et al., 2022)
Enteral nutrition allows a person who is at risk for malnutrition to receive a nutritionally balanced liquid formula directly into the gastrointestinal tract through a tube.
Here are 5 important aspects of enteral nutrition or tube feeding that you should know about:
- Indications: Enteral nutrition is commonly used when a person cannot meet their nutritional needs through oral intake alone. It may be indicated for individuals with conditions such as cancer, swallowing disorders, severe malnutrition, neurological impairments, gastrointestinal disorders, or during periods of recovery from surgery or illness.
- Types of Tubes: Various types of tubes can be used for enteral nutrition, depending on the individual’s specific needs and circumstances. Common types include nasogastric tubes (NG tubes), which are passed through the nose and into the stomach, and gastrostomy or jejunostomy tubes, which are surgically placed directly into the stomach or small intestine, respectively.
- Formulas: Tube feeding formulas are designed to provide a balanced mix of macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats), as well as vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients. These formulas come in different formulations to meet specific requirements, such as standard formulas for general nutritional needs, high-protein formulas for wound healing or muscle building, and specialized formulas for individuals with specific medical conditions or nutrient intolerances like diabetes.
- Administration: Enteral nutrition can be delivered continuously or intermittently, depending on the individual’s needs. Continuous feeding involves a slow and steady infusion of the formula over a specified period, often using an electronic pump. Intermittent feeding involves administering larger volumes of the formula at scheduled intervals throughout the day that can mimic more traditional eating patterns.. The method of administration depends on factors such as the individual’s tolerance, medical condition, and healthcare professional’s recommendations.
- Monitoring and Management: Regular monitoring of the individual’s response to tube feeding is essential. This includes assessing tolerance, hydration status, weight, laboratory values, and bowel movements. Adjustments to the formula, rate of administration, and tube placement may be necessary based on the individual’s needs and response.
It’s important to note that enteral nutrition should be prescribed and overseen by healthcare professionals, such as doctors, dietitians, or specialized nurses, who can assess the individual’s nutritional needs, monitor their progress, and address any complexities that may arise. For more information about the right level of nursing care for tube feeding you might need, you can read about The Difference Between a Registered Nurse and Caregiver.
If you know that you or a loved one can benefit from extra nursing care and support, but are not quite sure about what is the best option, please call Navi Nurses and speak with a registered nurse at 480-482-1891. The nurses at Navi are happy to help you with the direction that you need to make the best decisions possible.
You can also read more about How to Find a Private Duty Nurse.