Enteral Feeding: How It Works and When It’s Used


Enteral feeding refers to intake of food via the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The GI tract is composed of the mouth, esophagus, stomach, and intestines.

Enteral feeding may mean nutrition taken through the mouth or through a tube that goes directly to the stomach or small intestine. In the medical setting, the term enteral feeding is most often used to mean tube feeding.

A person on enteral feeds usually has a condition or injury that prevents eating a regular diet by mouth, but their GI tract is still able to function.

Being fed through a tube allows them to receive nutrition and keep their GI tract working. Enteral feeding may make up their entire caloric intake or may be used as a supplement.

When is enteral feeding used?

Tube feedings may become necessary when you can’t eat enough calories to meet your nutritional needs. This may occur if you physically can’t eat, can’t eat safely, or if your caloric requirements are increased beyond your ability to eat.

If you can’t eat enough, you’re at risk for malnourishment, weight loss, and very serious health issues. This may happen for a variety of reasons. Some of the more common underlying reasons for enteral feeding include:

a stroke, which may impair ability to swallow

cancer, which may cause fatigue, nausea, and vomiting that make it difficult to eat

critical illness or injury, which reduces energy or ability to eat

neurological or movement disorders that increase caloric requirements while making it more difficult to eatGI dysfunction or disease, although this may require intravenous (IV) nutrition instead.

Types of enternal feeding

According to the American College of Gastroenterology, there are six main types of feeding tubes. These tubes may have further subtypes depending on exactly where they end in the stomach or intestines.

The placement of the tube will be chosen by a doctor based on what size tube is needed, how long enteral feeds will be required, and your digestive abilities.

A medical professional will also choose an enteral formula to be used based on tube placement, digestive abilities, and nutritional needs.

The main types of enteral feeding tubes include:

Nasogastric tube (NGT) starts in the nose and ends in the stomach.

Orogastric tube (OGT) starts in the mouth and ends in the stomach.

Nasoenteric tube starts in the nose and ends in the intestines (subtypes include nasojejunal and nasoduodenal tubes).

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