What is a feeding tube?

A feeding tube is a device that’s inserted into your stomach through your abdomen. It’s used to supply nutrition when you have trouble eating. Feeding tube insertion is also called percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG), esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD), and G-tube insertion.

This treatment is reserved for when you have trouble eating on your own, due to reasons such as the following:

  • You have an abnormality of your mouth or esophagus, which is the tube that connects your throat to your stomach.
  • You have difficulty swallowing or keeping food down.
  • You aren’t getting enough nutrition or fluids by mouth.

Conditions that can cause you to have trouble eating include:

The treatment can also be done if you need it to receive certain medications.

This procedure is performed in a hospital or clinic.

Before you begin, tell your doctor about any medications you’re taking, including blood thinners such as warfarin (Coumadin), aspirin (Bufferin), or clopidogrel (Plavix). You’ll need to stop taking blood thinners or anti-inflammatory medications one week or so before the procedure.

Your doctor will also need to know if you’re pregnant or have certain conditions, such as:

If you have diabetes, your oral medications or insulin may have to be adjusted the day of the procedure.

Your doctor performs a gastrostomy using an endoscope, which is a flexible tube with a camera attached. You may be given anesthesia to make you more comfortable. This may make you drowsy following the procedure. Before the procedure, arrange to have someone drive you home.

This procedure requires you to fast. Typically, doctors ask that you abstain from eating eight hours before the procedure. Most people can return home the same day as the procedure or the following day.

Before the procedure, you need to remove any jewelry or dentures. You’re then given an anesthetic and something to relieve pain.

While you’re lying on your back, your doctor places the endoscope in your mouth and down your esophagus. The camera helps the doctor visualize your stomach lining to ensure that the feeding tube is positioned properly.

When your doctor can see your stomach, they make a small incision in your abdomen. Next, they insert the feeding tube through the opening. They then secure the tube and place a sterile dressing around the site. There may be a little drainage of bodily fluids, such as blood or pus, from the wound.

The whole procedure usually lasts less than an hour.

The feeding tube can be temporary or permanent, depending on the primary reason for the feeding tube.

Plan on resting after the procedure. Your abdomen should heal in about five to seven days.

After the tube is inserted, you may meet with a dietitian who will show you how to use the tube for feeding. Your dietitian will also educate you on how to care for the tube.

Drainage around the tube is normal for a day or two, and a nurse will probably change your dressing on a regular basis. Feeling pain for a few days around the place where the incision was made is normal. Make sure to keep the area dry and clean to avoid skin irritation or infection.

There are some risks associated with the procedure, but they aren’t common. Risks include trouble breathing and nausea from the medication. Excessive bleeding and infection are risks whenever you have surgery, even with a minor procedure such as a feeding tube insertion.

Before you leave the hospital or clinic, make sure you know how to care for your feeding tube and when you need to contact a doctor. You should call your doctor if:

  • the tube comes out
  • you have trouble with the formula or if the tube becomes blocked
  • you notice bleeding around the tube insertion site
  • you have drainage around the site after several days
  • you have signs and symptoms of an infection, including redness, swelling, or a fever