Enteral nutrition provides liquid nutrients through a tube inserted into the stomach or small intestine. Tube feeding can supplement or replace feeding by mouth if you are unable to swallow safely (dysphagia) or have severe digestive problems. Enteral nutrition is used most commonly in people with cancer (head and neck, stomach, and esophagus) or neurological disorders.
At Mayo Clinic, doctors with special training in nutrition work with you to determine the type of enteral nutrition and tube location that's best for you. Specially trained nurses and dietitians show you and your caregivers how to prepare, administer and monitor tube feeding at home. The goal is for you to become self-confident and independent in using home enteral nutrition.
You will have follow-up exams to assess your enteral nutrition plan. Mayo dietitians and nurses are also available to help with questions or concerns about tube feeding.
To determine the type of enteral nutrition that's best for you, Mayo Clinic doctors consider:
- The length of time you are likely to need tube feeding
- Your overall health and the condition of your digestive system
There are several options:
- Nasogastric or nasojejunal. If you need tube feeding for less than one to three months, Mayo doctors usually recommend inserting the tube through the nose and into the stomach (nasogastric placement) or into the jejunum — the middle part of the small intestine (nasojejunal placement).
- Stomach. If you need long-term tube feeding and your stomach functions normally, the tube may be placed through the skin of the abdominal wall into the stomach (percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy). Tubes may also be inserted using radiologic image guidance or surgery. Minimally invasive (laparoscopic) surgery is sometimes possible.
- Intestine. If your stomach doesn't function normally, the tube may be inserted into the jejunum. Tubes may be inserted by endoscope or by laparoscopic or open surgery.
Intestinal tube feeding is also generally recommended for people with:
- Bolus. A syringe delivers liquid nutrients into the stomach for five to 10 minutes several times a day.
- Gravity. A gravity-assisted drip delivers liquid nutrients into the stomach. Feeding is usually done for 45 to 60 minutes two or four times a day.
- Continuous. A pump delivers liquid nutrients at a constant rate. Continuous feeding is usually needed for intestinal tube feeding and may be used overnight.