A feeding tube is a device that’s inserted into your stomach through your abdomen. It’s used to supply nutrition when you have trouble eating. The treatment can also done if you need it to receive certain medications. It is sometimes called a percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG), a procedure in which a flexible feeding tube is placed through the abdominal wall and into the stomach. PEG allows nutrition, fluids and/or medications to be put directly into the stomach, bypassing the mouth and oesophagus.
This treatment is reserved for when you have trouble eating on your own. This can be because:
- you have a deformity of your mouth or oesophagus, which is the tube that connects your throat to your stomach
- you have difficulty swallowing or keeping food down
- you aren’t getting enough nutrition or fluids by mouth
Do I Need to Prepare for the Procedure?
This procedure is performed in hospital. Before you begin, tell your consultant about any medications you’re taking, including blood thinners such as warfarin (Coumadin), aspirin, or clopidogrel (Plavix). You’ll need to stop taking blood thinners or anti-inflammatory medications one week or so before the procedure. Your doctor will also need to know if you have certain conditions such as:
- heart conditions
- lung conditions
If you have diabetes, your oral medications or insulin may have to be adjusted the day of the procedure.
Your consultant will perform a gastrostomy using an endoscope, which is a flexible tube with a camera attached. You may be given anaesthesia to make you more comfortable. This may make you drowsy following the procedure. Arrange before the procedure to have someone available to drive you home.
This procedure requires you to fast. Typically, you are asked to abstain from eating eight hours before the procedure. Most people can return home the same day as the procedure or the following day.
How Is the Endoscope Inserted?
During the procedure, you’ll be asked to remove any jewellery or dentures. You’ll then be given an anaesthetic and something to relieve the pain. You’ll lie on your back. Your doctor will place the endoscope in your mouth and down your oesophagus. The camera will help the consultant visualize your stomach lining to ensure that the feeding tube is positioned properly.
When your consultant can see your stomach, they’ll make a small incision in your abdomen. Next, they’ll insert the feeding tube through the opening. They will secure the tube and place a sterile dressing around the site. There may be a little drainage of bodily fluids, such as blood or pus, from the wound. The whole procedure usually lasts less than an hour.
The feeding tube can be temporary or permanent, depending on the primary reason for the feeding tube.
After the Procedure
The medicine may make you drowsy. Plan on resting after the procedure. Your abdomen should heal in about five to seven days. After the tube is inserted, you may meet with a dietician who will show you how to use the tube for feeding. Your dietician will also educate you on how to care for the tube.
Drainage around the tube is normal for a day or two, and a nurse will probably change your dressing on a regular basis. Feeling pain for a few days around the place where the incision was made is normal. Make sure to keep the area dry and clean to avoid skin irritation or infection.
There are some risks associated with the procedure, but they aren’t common. Risks include trouble breathing and nausea from the medication. Excessive bleeding and infection are risks whenever you have surgery, even with a minor procedure such as a feeding tube insertion.
When to Call the Doctor
Before you leave the hospital, make sure you know how to care for your feeding tube and when you need to contact a doctor. You should call your doctor if:
- the tube comes out
- you have trouble with the formula or if the tube becomes blocked
- you notice bleeding around the tube insertion site
- you have drainage around the site after several days
- you have signs and symptoms of an infection, including redness, swelling, or a fever