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What Is An Nasogastric Tube?

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on June 05, 2021

A nasogastric tube goes into your nose and down to your stomach to give you nutrients and hydration if you have difficulty swallowing. The thin, soft tube is flexible and allows food to enter the stomach for normal digestion. It may look uncomfortable, but it doesn’t have to be.

Learn about the risks and benefits of a nasogastric tube in addition to tips for successful tube feeding.

Understanding Nasogastric Tubes

Nasogastric (NG) tubes are most commonly used for children. Your doctor may suggest an NG tube if your child:

  • Has a short-term need for getting nutrients or medicine
  • Isn’t growing as expected when eating regularly
  • Has difficulty swallowing liquids or food
  • Is recovering from a surgical procedure or has an infection that limits their ability to eat food for a short time‌
  • Needs additional nutrition they aren’t getting from food

Keep in mind that a nasogastric tube isn’t meant to be used for long-term feeding needs. There are other types of tubes used for long-term needs that go directly into your stomach or small intestine. Talk to your doctor about how long they think your child will need a feeding tube.

Nasogastric Tube Use And Care

When your child has an NG tube, it’s important to know how to use it correctly and keep it clean. A doctor or nurse will insert the tube for the first time at the hospital. They will show you how to insert the tube, remove it, and care for it at home. The doctor will also tell you how often to replace the tube with a new one. It’s important to follow all the guidelines and NG tube tips given by the doctor. 

If you’re struggling to insert the tube once you get home, talk to your doctor. You may be able to get help from a home health nurse who can come when it’s time for a feeding. The placement needs to be correct, or else food can drain into your child’s lungs or throat instead of their stomach.

Each time you insert the tube, you draw some of the liquid from your child’s stomach to test it. This makes sure the tube placement is correct before use.

Depending on your child’s needs, there are two types of feedings:

Continuous feeding. Continuous feeding drips into the stomach a little at a time for a longer period of time each day. Food is added to an NG tube pump and the machine does the work for you. Don’t change the settings on your child’s pump unless your doctor tells you to.

Bolus feeding. The second kind of feeding is called bolus feeding. It is used several different times each day around mealtimes. The amount of food given through the tube each time is smaller. You may use the automatic pump or a syringe to manually feed your child. ‌

If you have concerns, you should call your doctor immediately. Reasons you should call your doctor include:

  • You have trouble placing the tube correctly.
  • Your child isn’t breathing normally following placement or following a feed.
  • Your child’s skin is red, swollen, leaking fluid, or has sores around the spot where the tube enters.
  • There is blood in your child’s tube, stool, or stomach liquid.
  • Your child coughs, chokes, or vomits during a feeding.
  • Your child’s stomach sticks out and feels hard when you press on it.
  • Your child has diarrhea or constipation after feedings‌.
  • Your child has a fever of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, especially following a surgery or infection.

Diagnosing A Nasogastric Tube Need

Your child’s doctor will look at their condition to determine whether a nasogastric tube is needed. Signs that an NG tube may benefit your child include:

  • Bleeding in the upper gastrointestinal (GI) tract 
  • Aspirating gastric fluid, which is when fluids or solid particles of food enter your lungs or windpipe instead of being swallowed and going into your stomach.
  • The discovery of cancer cells in the stomach (gastric cancer)‌‌

To look for these conditions, your doctor may use a special dye to complete a radiographic contrast of your child’s GI tract. They may also use a laparoscope to look at the condition of the GI tract, small intestine, and stomach. A laparoscope surgery is a minimally invasive procedure where a doctor makes small cuts and uses a camera with a light to look inside your body.

If there is significant damage caused by another health condition, a nasogastric tube may allow the tissue to heal until your child can eat again without suffering.

Nasogastric Tube Complications

Nasogastric tubes pose very few risks when used correctly, but there is the possibility of side effects. Common complications include discomfort from placing and removing the tubes, sinusitis, or epistaxis.

Sinusitis is an infection of your sinuses. Epistaxis is bleeding from your nose, or a nose bleed. Once you stop using an NG tube, these side effects usually resolve on their own.‌

When placed incorrectly, tubes may puncture your child’s esophageal tissue, make a hole, and cause damage. Placing the tube into the lung instead of the stomach can be life-threatening. This is why it is important to confirm the placement each time before a feed. Long-term use of a nasogastric tube may lead to irritation to your stomach, including bleeding or ulcers.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Ada: "Acute Aspiration of Oropharyngeal or Gastric Contents."

Cleveland Clinic: "Nosebleed (Epistaxis)," "Sinus Infection (Sinusitis)."

Medscape: “Nasogastric Intubation.”

NHS: "Overview-Laparoscopy (keyhole surgery)."

Saint Luke’s: “When Your Child Needs a Nasogastric (NG) Tube.”

Sigmon, D., An, J., StatPearls: Nasogastric Tubes, StatPearls Publishing, 2021.

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