What is parenteral nutrition?

Parenteral nutrition, or intravenous feeding, is a method of getting nutrition into your body through your veins. Depending on which vein is used, this procedure is often referred to as either total parenteral nutrition (TPN) or peripheral parenteral nutrition (PPN).

This form of nutrition is used to help people who can’t or shouldn’t get their core nutrients from food. It’s often used for people with:

It also can help people with conditions that result from low blood flow to their bowels.

Parenteral nutrition delivers nutrients such as sugar, carbohydrates, proteins, lipids, electrolytes, and trace elements to the body. These nutrients are vital in maintaining high energy, hydration, and strength levels. Some people only need to get certain types of nutrients intravenously.

The most common side effects of parenteral nutrition are mouth sores, poor night vision, and skin changes. You should speak with your doctor if these conditions don’t go away.

Other less common side effects include:

  • changes in heartbeat
  • confusion
  • convulsions or seizures
  • difficulty breathing
  • fast weight gain or weight loss
  • fatigue
  • fever or chills
  • increased urination
  • jumpy reflexes
  • memory loss
  • muscle twitching, weakness, or cramps
  • stomach pain
  • swelling of your hands, feet, or legs
  • thirst
  • tingling in your hands or feet
  • vomiting

Contact your doctor immediately if you experience any of these reactions.

You need to speak with your healthcare provider about your exact nutritional needs. Your provider will prescribe the appropriate liquid for fulfilling these needs. You store this liquid in a refrigerator or freezer.

Each dose must be removed from the fridge four to six hours before use. This allows enough time for the liquid to reach room temperature. Frozen packets should be moved to the refrigerator 24 hours before use to thaw.

Parenteral nutrition is administered from a bag containing the nutrients you need through tubing attached to a needle or catheter.

With TPN, your healthcare provider places the catheter in a large vein, called the superior vena cava, that goes to your heart. Your healthcare provider may also place a port, such as a needleless access port, which makes intravenous feeding easier.

For temporary nutritional needs, your doctor may suggest PPN. This type of intravenous feeding uses a regular peripheral intravenous line instead of a central line threaded into your superior vena cava.

You’ll most likely complete intravenous feedings yourself at home. It usually takes 10 to 12 hours, and you’ll repeat this procedure five to seven times a week.

Your healthcare provider will provide detailed instructions for this procedure. In general, you first need to check your nutrient bags for floating particles and discoloration. Then you insert tubing into the bag and attach the tubing to your intravenous catheter or port as designated by your healthcare provider.

You need to leave the bag and tubing in place for most or all of the day. Afterward, you remove the nutrient bag and tubing.

The most common risk of using parenteral nutrition is developing catheter infection. Other risks include:

It’s essential to maintain clean tubing, needleless access ports, catheters, and other equipment to minimize these risks.

Many people experience some improvement in their condition after parenteral nutrition. You may not be rid of your symptoms, but your body may be able to heal more quickly. You’ll likely feel stronger and more energized. This can help you do more in spite of the effects of your condition.

A physician or dietitian will reassess your nutritional needs after several weeks of this nutrition program to see if any adjustments need to be made in the dosage. You’ll likely have tests done to assess your individual needs.

The results of parenteral nutrition are maintained health and energy levels in your body. You may need this treatment only temporarily. Or you may need to use it for the rest of your life. Your nutritional needs may change with time.