Feeding tubes are essential for medical professionals. They are common tools for a wide spectrum of diseases and conditions, crossing multiple disciplines and treatment plans. Ultimately, when nutrition or hydration is insufficient and cannot be maintained orally, clinicians often consider the placement of a feeding tube to be a viable solution. However, the decision to introduce a feeding tube is not an easy one, especially when your patient is a child. Twenty percent of all feeding tube placements in the U.S. are for children. The introduction of a feeding tube into a child’s life can be overwhelming for both the patient and family.
Consider this short list to get an understanding about feeding tubes and their impact on patients and family members.
- Feeding Tubes are Just a Different Way to Eat
Proper nutrition is essential to maintaining our bodies’ health, growth and ability to heal. There are various medical conditions that could lead someone to needing enteral nutrition support, which is the delivery of nutrients to the body through the gastrointestinal tract.
A feeding tube is a medical device used for individuals who are unable to obtain their proper caloric intake by normal/oral means. There are many different types of feeding tubes available based upon the patient’s needs. Your healthcare professional will assist you in determining the best type of alternative feeding for your situation. For instance, a gastrostomy tube, also known as a g-tube, may be inserted through the abdominal wall to provide direct access to the stomach for feeding. A g-tube is a convenient and effective means for delivering nutritional formulas (food) to the body.
- One Size Fits All – FALSE!
Feeding tubes come in a wide variety of sizes and styles, and it is extremely important to have a proper fit, especially in children. As your child grows and develops, their stoma site can change and should be re-measured as directed by your physician. The stoma site is the surgically created opening in the body, where the feeding device sits. Your physician will recommend how often to re-measure, however if your child has significantly gained/lost weight or has grown into a new shoe size, it’s a good indication that their site might need to be re-measured for the best optimal fit.
- Feeding Tubes are often Supplemental
Patients may see a feeding tube as the only way they can get nutrition, but in some cases that is a myth. The truth is, someone with a feeding tube may still be able to eat or drink normally. Some feeding tubes may be a supplement to oral eating or a way to deliver medication. Providers should encourage patients to try to eat and drink if oral intake is safe and there is no risk of aspiration. The tube is there only to provide additional sustenance.
- Technology Improves Tube Placement
Advancements in technology make the proper placement of a feeding tube easier. A recent review determined that incorrect placement may have serious and potentially life-threatening consequences.
X-ray remains the preferred tool in most facilities for establishing the proper placement of the tube. However, advanced technology improves the process and the preferred method may vary depending on the provider and the needs of the patient. With better instruments in hand today, medical professionals are better equipped to accurately confirm the initial placement and reduce both the trauma to their patient and the risk of damage due to a misplaced tube.
- Feeding Tubes can Accidentally Fallout or Fail
Don’t panic! There are many factors that contribute to the performance and longevity of any feeding tube device. For instance, a balloon device may leak or burst over time due to medication, balloon inflation volume, stomach acid, g-tube care, or natural wear. Sometimes devices can even accidentally become dislodged from the stoma tract for unknown reasons.
In scenarios like this, it is extremely important to always keep a spare device on hand. If you are unable to get a device back in the stoma track make sure to call your physician immediately, as the stoma may begin to close.
- Feeding Tubes Do Not Require Bed Rest and Inactivity
The patient’s activity does not have to be inhibited by the use of a feeding tube. People may connect a feeding tube with an end-of-life scenario, but, today, people are often able to live active lives despite the need for a tube. This is critical information, especially for parents caring for a child who requires a feeding tube. With the product advancements today, children can still run and play normally, swim, and participate in sports, despite having a tube in place. Low-profile tubes are the most discreet option, as they lay flush against the skin and are easy to hide under clothing.
- Removal of a Feeding Tube Comes With Challenges
A feeding tube should never be placed or removed without a physician’s order. In some cases, the need for a feeding tube is temporary, and at some point the patient is able to have the tube removed and return to full oral ingestion of nutrients.
Often patients may welcome the return to daily living without depending on a feeding tube. However, pediatric patients may be dealing with multiple issues at once and the feeding tube may offer some comfort. Removing it means a break in their normal routine and having to adjust to a change in their lives. For parents, they lose the one thing that ensures their child gets the food and medicine necessary to thrive.
At the same time, there are physical side effects to deal with. Patients coming off a feeding tube may experience increased acid reflux. They may have nutritional imbalances that affect their daily routine and how they feel. There is social pressure for the entire family as other people react to the removal of the feeding tube.
Feeding tubes are valuable tools for the medical community, but it comes at a cost for patients. Clinicians can ease that burden by staying up to date on the current technology for all types of tubes and by helping dispel some common myths associated with the use of these instruments.