If you can’t eat or swallow, your doctor or nurse will insert a thin plastic tube through your nostril, down your esophagus, and into your stomach.

If you can’t eat or swallow, you may need to have a nasogastric tube inserted. This process is known as nasogastric (NG) intubation. During NG intubation, your doctor or nurse will insert a thin plastic tube through your nostril, down your esophagus, and into your stomach.

Once this tube is in place, they can use it to give you food and medicine. They can also use it to remove things from your stomach, such as toxic substances or a sample of your stomach contents.

NG intubation is most commonly used for the following reasons:

  • feeding
  • delivering medication
  • removing and evaluating stomach contents
  • administering radiographic contrast for imaging studies
  • decompressing blockages

It’s also used to help treat some premature infants.

Your doctor or nurse can give you food and medicine through an NG tube. They can also apply suction to it, allowing them to remove contents from your stomach.

For example, your doctor may use NG intubation to help treat accidental poisoning or drug overdose. If you’ve swallowed something harmful, they can use an NG tube to remove it from your stomach, or to deliver treatments.

For instance, they may administer activated charcoal through your NG tube to help absorb the harmful substance. This can help lower your chances of a severe reaction.

Your doctor or nurse can also use an NG tube to:

  • remove a sample of your stomach contents for analysis
  • remove some of your stomach contents to the relieve the pressure on an intestinal obstruction or blockage
  • remove blood from your stomach

An NG tube insertion typically occurs in either a hospital or your home. In most cases, you won’t need to take any special steps to prepare.

Right before it’s inserted, you may need to blow your nose and take a few sips of water.

Your healthcare provider will insert your NG tube while you’re lying down in a bed with the head elevated or sitting in a chair. Before they insert the tube, they will apply some lubrication to it and likely some numbing medication as well.

They will likely ask you to bend your head, neck, and body at various angles as they thread the tube through your nostril, down your esophagus, and into your stomach. These movements can help ease the tube into position with minimal discomfort.

They may also ask you to swallow or take small sips of water when the tube reaches your esophagus to help it slide into your stomach.

Once your NG tube is in place, your healthcare provider will take steps to check its placement. For example, they might try to draw fluid out of your stomach. Or they might insert air through the tube, while listening to your stomach with a stethoscope.

To keep your NG tube in place, your care provider will likely secure it to your face with a piece of tape. They can reposition it if it feels uncomfortable.

If you can’t eat or drink, NG intubation and feeding can help you get the nutrition and medications you need. NG intubation can also help your doctor treat an intestinal obstruction in ways that are less invasive than intestinal surgery.

They can also use it to collect a sample of your stomach contents for analysis, which can help them diagnose certain conditions.

If your NG tube isn’t inserted properly, it can potentially injure the tissue inside your nose, sinuses, throat, esophagus, or stomach.

This is why placement of the NG tube is checked and confirmed to be in the correct location before any other action is performed.

NG tube feeding can also potentially cause:

  • abdominal cramping
  • abdominal swelling
  • diarrhea
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • regurgitation of food or medicine

Your NG tube can also potentially become blocked, torn, or dislodged. This can lead to additional complications. Using an NG tube for too long can also cause ulcers or infections in your sinuses, throat, esophagus, or stomach.

If you need long-term tube feedings, your doctor will likely recommend a gastrostomy tube. They can surgically implant a gastrostomy tube in your abdomen to allow food to be introduced directly into your stomach.

To lower your risk of complications from NG intubation and feeding, your healthcare team will:

  • ensure the tube is always taped securely to your face
  • check the tube for signs of leakage, blockage, and kinks
  • elevate your head during feedings and for an hour afterwards
  • watch for signs of irritation, ulceration, and infection
  • keep your nose and mouth clean
  • monitor your hydration and nutrition status regularly
  • check electrolyte levels through regular blood tests
  • make sure drainage bag is regularly emptied, if applicable

Ask your healthcare provider for more information about your specific treatment plan and outlook.