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Tube Feeding

By David R. Thomas, MD

Tube feeding (enteral tube nutrition) may be used to feed people whose digestive tract is functioning normally but who cannot eat enough to meet their nutritional needs. Such people include those with the following:

  • A poor appetite for a long time

  • Severe protein-energy undernutrition (a severe deficiency of protein and calories)

  • Coma or greatly reduced alertness

  • Liver failure

  • A head or neck injury or another disorder that makes them unable to eat by mouth

  • A serious illness (such as burns) that increases nutritional requirements

If people are seriously ill or undernourished, they may be fed through a tube before surgery.

Compared with intravenous feeding, tube feeding has the following advantages:

  • It better preserves the structure and function of the digestive tract.

  • Cost is lower.

  • It probably causes fewer complications, particularly infections.

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