What Happens When You Get a Feeding Tube?

If you have trouble swallowing or can't eat or drink enough through your mouth, you may need a feeding tube. You may get one through your nose or mouth for a few days or weeks while you recover from an illness.

But if you have long-term or serious reasons why you’re unable to eat, such as dementia or terminal cancer, you may have a fairly simple surgery called a percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG). Your surgeon cuts through the skin of your belly and inserts the tube right into your stomach to deliver a liquid food mixture or a formula.

Tube Placement Surgery

Your doctor will probably tell you not to eat or drink anything for 8 hours before your operation. At the hospital, you’ll be asked to take off eyeglasses and dentures.

You’ll get a mixture of a painkiller, a sedative, and an antibiotic through a tiny tube into your vein. Your doctor also will give you a shot of an anesthetic (a pain-numbing drug) in the part of your body where the feeding tube will go in. You may not be fully conscious for the procedure.

During the procedure, your doctor threads an instrument called an endoscope through your mouth and into your stomach. A camera on the end of the endoscope allows her to see the stomach lining to find the best spot for the PEG tube. She then makes a small cut in the abdominal wall to insert it.

The surgery usually lasts about 30-45 minutes.

What Happens After?

Your doctors will watch you closely for any signs of infection, bleeding, or other complications.

Your doctor will tape the feeding tube to your belly. You might see some drainage around it for the first day or two. A sterile gauze will cover your cut, and your nurse will change the dressing as needed. Once the dressing comes off and your wound has healed, you’ll need to wash the area daily with soap and water.

Your abdomen may be a bit sore for a couple of days where the tube went in. It might feel like a pulled muscle. Your doctor will give you pain meds for the first day after the surgery.

Continued

A dietitian will show you how to use and care for the feeding tube. You can use a store-bought formula or mix your own. Most people use gravity or a pump to drip the formula continuously into the stomach. Another way, called bolus feeding, uses a pump or syringe to push the formula several times a day, similar to mealtimes.

Usually, your feeding tube won’t need to be replaced for several months. You may even have it for 2-3 years.

When to Call Your Doctor

Let your doctor know right away if:

  • The tube comes out or gets dislodged.
  • Food won’t pass through the tube.
  • You see leaks around the tube.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on September 10, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy: “Understanding Percutaneous Endoscopic Gastrostomy (PEG).”

ALS Association: “Information About Feeding Tubes.”

California State University Northridge: “Tube Feeding Administration.”

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