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An enteral pump is an electric device used to regulate the delivery of liquid through a feeding tube into an individual's gastrointestinal tract. An enteral pump can be used continuously or for a set period of time, from a few minutes to many hours. It can provide total nutrition, such as formula, or supplemental nutrition, such as a solution of water and a particular liquid nutrient. A medical team determines the infusion rate—the amount of liquid to be dispensed and the length of time it should take to dispense it—and the specific solution or formula.
Unlike parenteral feeding, which delivers nutrients through a tube into a person's veins, enteral feeding uses one of several kinds of tubes to deliver nutrients into the gastrointestinal system. A nasogastric tube, or NG tube, goes through the nose to the stomach, while a gastrostomy tube, or g-tube, is surgically inserted directly into the stomach. A nasojejunal tube, or NJ tube, goes through the nose to the jejunum; it requires a more complicated placement than an NG tube, using X-ray technology for guidance. A jejunostomy places the tube directly in the jejunum. Both gastric and jejunal tubes can be used for pump feeding.
An enteral pump uses a feeding set, which consists of a plastic bag with a tube that is threaded through the pump and attached to the person's tube. The pump uses either a rotary peristaltic system or a cassette system to regulate the flow of liquid through the tube. In a rotary system, the tube is compressed by the gears of the pump at regular intervals to stop and start the flow. A cassette system regularly measures the fluid and releases it.
Most enteral pumps run on rechargeable batteries, and can operate while recharging. They have buttons on the front that are used to set the infusion rate. Every enteral pump has safety features, including an alarm that sounds when the bag is empty or the pump malfunctions. Most come with a bracket that attaches to a pole, but some portable pumps also fit in a backpack that is worn by the user, or by a person carrying a tube-fed infant.
An enteral pump should never be used for parenteral feeding. Most enteral pumps have a long battery life, but they should be kept as fully charged as possible. Feeding sets should be replaced frequently; if they are reused, they need to be flushed and cleaned. Pumps can be noisy, and some have a brightly lit screen that can be distracting in a dark room. Despite these cautions, enteral pumps are typically very easy to set up, and most caregivers have little trouble learning how to use them.
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