A gastric feeding tube is a medical device which is inserted into a patient's stomach to supplement his or her diet. Feeding tubes are used on patients who cannot eat, and sometimes on patients who refuse to eat as well. Tube feeding requires some education, as the patient and/or caregivers must be taught about nutritional balance and formulas which are acceptable for tube feeding. As a medical tool, tube feeding can greatly improve a patient's prognosis by ensuring that he or she receives the proper nutrition.
There are two basic types of feeding tubes. A nasogastric tube or NG-tube is run through the patient's nose and into his or her stomach. This sort of tube is usually used for temporary care, in which the patient only requires a feeding tube for a few days. NG-tubes can be very uncomfortable for patients. A gastric tube or G-tube is inserted through the abdominal wall with the help of an endoscope. This tube is designed for long-term use, and patients can wear their gastric tubes out and about with a high level of comfort when they are installed correctly.
When a gastric feeding tube is going to be inserted through the abdominal wall, the patient is sedated, as the procedure could otherwise be rather uncomfortable. The endoscope is guided down the esophagus and into the stomach; a bright light helps doctors see the endoscope through the patient's abdomen, while the endoscope provides a clear picture of the interior of the stomach. Then, a needle is pushed into the abdomen and used to guide the feeding tube into place.
For several days after the insertion of a gastric feeding tube, the patient may feel uncomfortable as the surgical site heals. It is also important to keep the site clean with changes of gauze and regular swabbing. Once the site heals, a caregiver must check the tube regularly to ensure that it is not being displaced; pressure on the tube can cause internal damage, as can partial removal of the gastric feeding tube.
To feed a patient through a gastric tube, a valve on the tube is opened to permit the flow of food formulas. A number of companies produce commercial formulas for use with feeding tubes; some doctors recommend that people use only commercial products as they are less likely to cause clogging, and they are formulated to provide complete nutrition. The patient's stomach digests the food normally, extracting the usable nutrition for the patient's body and passing the rest as waste.