Enteral nutrition, also known as tube feeding, is a way of delivering nutrition directly to your stomach or small intestine. Your doctor might recommend tube feeding if you can't eat enough to get the nutrients you need.

When tube feeding occurs outside the hospital, doctors refer to it as home enteral nutrition. A home enteral nutrition care team can teach you how to feed yourself through a tube and provide support when you encounter problems.

Home enteral nutrition might be recommended if you have difficulty eating, but your digestive system works normally. Examples include:

  • Cancer, such as head and neck cancers or cancer treatment that makes it difficult or painful to swallow
  • Neurological problems, such as stroke and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
  • Gastrointestinal problems, such as gastroparesis and bowel obstruction
  • Trauma, such as an injury to your digestive tract

Types of feeding tubes

Feeding tubes deliver liquid nutrition directly to your stomach or small intestine. Options may include:

  • Feeding tube passed through the nose. If you'll need a feeding tube for a month or less, your health care provider may recommend inserting a tube through your nose and into your stomach (nasogastric tube) or your small intestine (nasojejunal tube).
  • Feeding tube passed through the skin on your abdomen. If you'll need longer term tube feeding, your doctor may recommend a procedure to place a tube through the skin on your abdomen and into your stomach (gastrostomy) or into your small intestine (jejunostomy).

Which tube is best for you will depend on your situation. Discuss your options with your health care provider.

  • Collaboration. At Mayo Clinic, radiologists, gastroenterologists, endocrinologists, speech pathologists, surgeons, pharmacists, internal medicine specialists, dietitians, nurse specialists and wound care experts work as a multidisciplinary team to provide whole-person care for people who require home enteral nutrition.
  • Experience. Mayo Clinic specialists have provided home enteral nutrition services to more than 11,000 people. Your care team is prepared with the experience, knowledge and resources to provide you with exactly the care you need.
  • A full range of treatment options to consider. Mayo Clinic doctors work with you to review all of your treatment options and choose the treatment that best meets your needs. Options for home enteral nutrition include a variety of feeding tubes, including nasogastric, nasojejunal, gastrostomy, jejunostomy, transgastric jejunostomy and venting tubes.
  • Research. Mayo Clinic doctors and scientists are using individual-driven innovation to improve home enteral nutrition and deliver exactly the care each person needs.

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 among the Best Hospitals for digestive disorders by U.S. News & World Report. Mayo Clinic also ranks among the Best Children's Hospitals for digestive disorders.

At Mayo Clinic, a specially trained care team works with you to determine the type of enteral nutrition that best meets your needs. Your care team works to help you become self-confident and independent in using home enteral nutrition.

Your care team consists of several experts to guide and support you, including:

  • Endocrinologists
  • Internal medicine professionals
  • Interventional radiologists
  • Pharmacists
  • Registered dietitians
  • Registered nurses
  • Speech pathologists
  • Surgeons
  • Wound care specialists

Your care team works with you to build the skills you need to prepare, administer and monitor your tube feedings. Your training may include learning about:

  • Selecting and preparing your feeding formula
  • Administering your formula
  • Taking medications
  • Caring for your feeding tube
  • Solving problems as they arise
  • Keeping records of your tube feedings
  • Identifying reliable sources for supplies and equipment

Your care team tailors your training to your individual needs. Your training may take a few hours or a few days, depending on your situation. In addition to one-on-one training, you'll receive educational materials that outline your tube feeding program.

Your care team continues to offer support and care beyond your initial training. Expect regular follow-up visits with your doctor and a registered dietitian, who serves as your home enteral nutrition coordinator. Your team stays in touch with you through the phone and online messaging. If any problems occur, your care team is available to help.

Mayo Clinic doctors and scientists are studying ways to reduce the risk of complications and improve the quality of life for people who need tube feeding.

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

Dec. 09, 2014