Feeding tubes are something that a lot of residents of Mount Vernon and elsewhere don’t know a lot about until they have a need for them, which could be a short-term medical condition or a longer-term need for a palliative care situation.
The team at Above and Beyond Home Health Care and Hospice are always happy to share our knowledge of the different types of tubes and the reasons for them. Many of our clients use them, sometimes on a temporary basis and others may need them for a longer-term.
Our staff has received training on the different types, and we’ve also gained a lot of experience working with our clients.
But some clients or their families don’t always have much time to learn or choice in what tube they’re given. So sometimes decisions must be made in a hurry without learning about all the pros and cons of the different types or reasons. There’s nothing wrong with trusting a provider’s recommendation since they’re usually the experts, but it’s a smarter idea to do some research ahead of time so you’ll be aware of the different types and reasons for them.
Yes, there are times when someone won’t have any say in getting a tube installed, such as an emergency situation or unexpected trauma. But in other cases, such as a progressive condition that gradually affects the brain and body like Alzheimer’s disease, it’s a possibility that someone will need a tube in the future if they lose the ability to swallow or chew properly.
Reasons for tubes
Consider this an overview of the how and why of current feeding tubes:
Tubes are designed to help people who are no longer able to feed themselves. They can go directly into the stomach and provide liquid food, which includes necessary nutrition such as protein, fats, and carbohydrates.
Tubes can also provide hydration for those unable to swallow and properly drink fluids, as an alternative to an IV. They are also a useful way to deliver medicine that can go right into the stomach and begin processing it, rather than being administered through an IV which goes into blood vessels and takes longer to disperse to the rest of the body.
In some situations, a tube can help in opposite directions. For someone having digestive problems, a tube can remove stomach contents. It can also remove gas that may cause bloating of the stomach, which is common after abdominal surgery.
A provider may also suggest a tube if there are concerns about people medically being unable to swallow and instead have a risk of choking and pulling food or water into their lungs. Either of these could create dangerous situations where airways can be blocked, or particles inhaled. Pneumonia is possible as well as oxygen deprivation.
People may have problems swallowing due to damage to their throat, esophagus, or mouth. This could be something like cancer damage or something temporary. For instance, people placed on ventilators for breathing needs will likely require a feeding tube to keep hydrated and fed and avoid situations where they could inhale food particles.
Someone may have mental situations which make them not be able to swallow well, such as advanced dementia.
A provider may discuss the need for a tube with a patient’s family and the patient too if they’re alert and able to consent. Depending on the circumstances, a tube can be in for a few weeks or longer. Certain types are only intended for short-term use for emergency or acute situations, while others may be for a longer time.
Longer-term tubes may be more complicated to insert and remove. But because they are often placed in the stomach rather than the throat, people don’t have their speech affected like they would with a tube in their mouth.
Types of tubes
Common tubes include:
- The gastric tube, which goes right into the stomach. Nicknamed the G-tube, it requires a small incision to insert. It’s considered one of the longer-term options for people unable to use their mouths or throats properly.
- The jejunostomy, or j-tube, goes into the abdomen but also can go into part of the small intestine. This makes it easy for medicine in powder form or liquids to be inserted into the body. This could be useful for stronger medication that won’t be diluted by stomach acid.
- Orogastic tubes are shorter-term options that are placed in the mouth and go down the esophagus into the stomach.
- Nasogastric tubes go through the nose and down the throat and into the stomach. Generally, these stay for around a month until they’re removed or possibly replaced with a longer-term tube.
To reduce some of the fear about tubes and increase knowledge, there are plenty of online consumer resources. The Feeding Tube Awareness Foundation and a few other corporate sponsors even have organized Feeding Tube Awareness Week, which runs Feb. 7-11.
The foundation was formed in 2010 with the goal of educating patients, providers, and anyone else about the about the value of feeding tubes and options that families can learn about, including types of food to give after someone comes home from the hospital.