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Intravenous Feeding

By David R. Thomas, MD

Intravenous feeding (parenteral nutrition) is used when the digestive tract cannot adequately absorb nutrients, as occurs in severe malabsorption disorders (see Malabsorption). It is also used when the digestive tract must be temporarily kept free of food, as is needed during certain stages of ulcerative colitis.

Food given intravenously can provide part of a person's nutritional requirements (partial parenteral nutrition), supplementing the food eaten by mouth. Or it may provide all of a person's nutritional requirements (total parenteral nutrition).

Total parenteral nutrition requires a large intravenous tube. The tube (called a central venous catheter) must be inserted into a large vein, such as the subclavian vein, which is located under the collarbone. Total parenteral nutrition may be used at home or in the hospital.

Total parenteral nutrition may be required in people with the following:

  • A digestive tract that is not functioning

  • Severe pancreatitis or certain stages of ulcerative colitis

  • A blockage in the intestine

  • Certain birth defects of the digestive tract

  • In children, diarrhea that has lasted a long time, regardless of its cause

  • Short bowel syndrome due to surgical removal of a large part of the small intestine

Compared with tube feeding, intravenous feeding causes more complications, does not preserve the structure and function of the digestive tract as well, and is more expensive. Intravenous feeding is usually not the first choice for nutritional support when the digestive tract is functioning.

Drugs Mentioned In This Article

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  • R-GENE 10
  • FLAGYL
  • No US brand name