Enteral nutrition is the medical term for feeding through a tube in the stomach or small intestine. It can be used at home by people who can't eat normally but whose digestive system is at least partially functioning. Tube feeding may be temporary or lifelong. With time and experience, people using enteral nutrition can have improved quality of life.

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

Tube placement

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:

Feeding methods

  • 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.
  • Experience. Each year, Mayo Clinic clinicians teach hundreds of people to administer enteral nutrition at home, including people referred by other centers because they are experiencing problems with home tube feeding.
  • Expertise. Mayo Clinic nutrition care teams have experience in several enteral feeding methods. Your Mayo care team will work with you and your caregivers to find the best option.
  • Compassionate care team. Follow-up exams with your doctor and ongoing support from nurses and dietitians can help you achieve successful enteral nutrition at home.

Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., ranks No. 1 for digestive disorders in the U.S. News & World Report Best Hospitals rankings. Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., are ranked high performing for digestive disorders by U.S. News & World Report.

At Mayo Clinic, we assemble a team of specialists who take the time to listen and thoroughly understand your health issues and concerns. We tailor the care you receive to your personal health care needs. You can trust our specialists to collaborate and offer you the best possible outcomes, safety and service.

Mayo Clinic is a not-for-profit medical institution that reinvests all earnings into improving medical practice, research and education. We're constantly involved in innovation and medical research, finding solutions to improve your care and quality of life. Your doctor or someone on your medical team is likely involved in research related to your condition.

Our patients tell us that the quality of their interactions, our attention to detail and the efficiency of their visits mean health care — and trusted answers — like they've never experienced.

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Evaluation for home enteral nutrition is only available by referral from a Mayo physician.

See information on patient services at the three Mayo Clinic locations, including transportation options and lodging.

Mayo Clinic researchers are studying methods of enteral nutrition that can reduce the risk of complications and improve the quality of life for people who need tube feeding. Specific areas of interest include tube-placement methods, the ethics of long-term tube feeding and enteral nutrition as a means of promoting recovery from trauma such as head injuries.

Publications

See a list of publications by Mayo Clinic doctors on enteral nutrition on PubMed, a service of the National Library of Medicine.

Jul. 06, 2011