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Types of Feeding Tubes and Their Uses

A plastic feeding tube is a medical device used to feed people who cannot safely eat or drink by mouth. This problem may be due to difficulty swallowing, altered mental status, or other issues that make eating a challenge. There are many types of feeding tubes used for different reasons, some are disposable and some are permanent. If you need to decide on feeding tubes for yourself or a loved one, it is important to have good information about them.


Ⅰ. The type of feeding tube


The type of feeding tube used depends on what is causing the problem. Some are disposable and only safe to use for about 14 days. Permanent damage to the larynx (voice box) and tissues in the throat or esophagus can occur if used for too long. Others are meant to be long-term, or even permanent. They can be used for months or even years during their lifetime. They can be removed as needed without causing the same complications.


1. Short-term feeding tube


Nasogastric tube: This type of tube is inserted into the nose and down the throat. It is passed into the esophagus and stays in the stomach. It can stay in place for four to six weeks before being completely removed or replaced with a long-term feeding tube.


Orogastric tube: This is the same type of tube as a gastric tube, but it is inserted into the mouth. It then follows the same path through the throat and esophagus, and into the stomach. It can last up to two weeks before being removed or replaced.


2. Long-term feeding tube


Gastric tube: A gastric tube is passed directly into the stomach through a surgical incision on the upper left side of the abdomen. This means it bypasses the mouth and throat completely. It allows food, liquids and medicines to be given without swallowing.


Jejunostomy tube: Like a gastric tube, a jejunostomy is placed through an incision in the abdomen. But this incision is placed below the stomach tube, so the feeding tube ends in the middle third of the small intestine, called the jejunum. It tends to be smaller than a stomach tube, so only thin liquids and powdered medicines can pass through. Disposable feeding tubes work in much the same way, with the tube ending either in the stomach (gastric tube) or further into the small intestine (jejunostomy).


Ⅱ. The use of feeding tubes


The purpose of feeding tubes is not just to ensure that people who have difficulty swallowing, those who cannot swallow or chew are fed. The most common uses of feeding tubes include:


1. Provide nutrition: Food in liquid form can be given through a feeding tube. Tube feeding or enteral nutrition can provide the carbohydrates, protein, and fats needed to support the body.


2. Provide fluids: Water given through a feeding tube allows a person to stay hydrated without the need for intravenous fluids.


3. Delivering medicines: The medicines you need can be given through a feeding tube, including many pills and tablets. Their contents can be powdered and mixed with water for administration.


4. Decompress the stomach: Some feeding tubes can be used to remove air from the stomach. The suction attached to the tube removes gas, reducing bloating (enlargement) and bloating.


5. Remove stomach contents: Undigested food left in the stomach can cause nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, and bloating. Suction can be used to remove liquids and food particles.

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