Sunday, February 5, 2017

What Is A Feeding Tube?

Feeding Tube Awareness Week of 2017 is February 6th through the 10th. Before I required a feeding tube myself, I had little knowledge of them. I knew they were used for people who are ill, but I assumed doctors placed them only in the elderly, premature babies, or maybe cancer patients. I believed in the stigma that feeding tubes were crippling. I was unaware of the vast reasons for their use or how they allow people of various ages live an active, normal life. I will go more in depth about that later. To kickstart awareness week, it is necessary to provide an easily understood explanation of what a feeding tube is and the differences between the various types of feeding tubes.

What is a feeding tube? 

A feeding tube is a medical device composed of a plastic tube leading into the gastrointestinal tract. They provide nutrition to those unable to sustain themselves by consuming food orally. Some patients rely completely on the tube for all of their nutrition, while others supplement their oral intake or intravenous nutrition with tube feeds.

Are there different types of feeding tubes? 

There are quite a few options of feeding tubes that take different routes in the gastrointestinal tract. The type chosen is dependent on the patient's underlying medical condition deeming the tube necessary.

Nasal Tubes

The average person may wonder what the nose or nasal passage has to do with tube feeding. At the age of 16, I had similar thoughts as the doctor recommended my first NJ tube (aka nose hose) be placed. The nasal tubes obviously begin in the nose and are threaded through the gastrointestinal tract. These tubes are inserted easily in radiology. They are temporary, normally not left in for more than a few months because they are easier to remove and place that the surgical tubes in the abdomen.

  • NG Tube (Nasogastric Tube)

    An NG tube is threaded through the nose, down the esophagus, directly into the stomach. Aside from delivering formula into the stomach, an NG tube can also be used to suction stomach contents. 

Certain patients have such compromised gastrointestinal tracts that feeding formula into the stomach is not doable. In these cases, the gastrointestinal tract is still used to receive nutrition, but the stomach is bypassed completely

Top Left: NJ Tube // Top Right: Radiology Image of GJ Tube
Bottom Left: Long G Tube // Bottom Right: Low Profile GJ Tube Outside Body
  • ND Tube (Nasoduodenal Tube)

    An ND tube is threaded through the nose, down the esophagus, through the stomach, and led into the beginning portion of the small bowel called the duodenum.

  • NJ Tube (Nasojejunal Tube)

    An NJ tube is threaded through the nose, down the esophagus, through the stomach, past the duodenum, and into the second portion of the small bowel known as the jejunum. 

Abdominal Tubes 

Nasal tubes, while less invasive, are not always optimal. For long term use, an abdominal tube is placed into the patient's abdomen in surgery. They come in the forms of small, low profile buttons and long, non-low profile. They are held in place by an internal bumper, like a ballon pictured below.

  • G Tube (Gastrostomy Tube)

    A G tube leads directly into the stomach through the outside of the abdomen. Like an NG tube, a G tube can be used for suction, or venting stomach contents, in addition to feeding.
G Tube Low-Profile Button
Balloon Button deflated VS inflated. 
The following two types of feeding tubes give access to the intestines for feeding.

  • J Tube (Jejunal Tube)

    A J tube leads directly into the small bowel, the jejunum, through the outside of the abdomen. This is generally an intense surgery in comparison to other surgical tubes.

  • GJ Tube (Gastro-Jejunal Tube)

    A GJ tube is ideal for patients who need access to both their stomach and the intestines, but do not want separate tubes. It is surgically placed into the abdomen, giving access to the stomach. Internally, there is a second tube branching off is threaded through the remainder of the stomach, the duodenum, where it ends in the jejunum. There are two access points on the outside. In most cases, the G portion is used for venting stomach contents and the J portion is for feeding. 
Watch my YouTube video demonstrating how to prepare a feed to spread awareness: Feeding Tube Awareness Week 2017: How To Prepare a Feed

Interested in learning more? Visit the Feeding Tube Awareness Foundation. Check out my posts, Top 10 Tips For New (and Old) Tubies, How To Feel Comfortable With a Feeding Tube In Public, and Teen + Young Adult Tubies: Life or Death Sentence?