Tube feeding is a form of giving your body the nutrition it needs through liquid nutrition delivered via a feeding tube, rather than eating or drinking. Depending on the nature of their condition, patients may use feeding tube formula such as Boost, Fibersource, or Solcarb. Thanks to advances in science, technology, and nutrition, tube feeding is now an extremely safe and standard way to help patients with chronic or critical illnesses get the nutrition they need.
But that doesn’t mean people who tube feed don’t encounter issues. In this article, we’ll discuss some of the most common problems a tube feeding patient might encounter, and the ways to best deal with those problems.
Common tube feeding problems
Feeding tube blockages or clogs
A clogged feeding tube can lead to a significant drop in the amount of nutrition delivered during enteral feeding, increasing the risk of damaging the tube. If you experience a clog, you should have a clinician clear the clog by flushing the tube with warm water. If that doesn’t work, they can use a declogging agent such as ClogZapper, which is a food-grade powder that uses enzymes to clear blocked tubes. Your clinician can use a syringe to dispense the mixture into your feeding tube, allowing it to work for 30 to 60 minutes before flushing the tube with water.
Feeding Tube Leakage
Depending on the type of feeding tube you’re using, minor leakage can be considered normal. If you’re experiencing secretions from the stoma, you can help manage them by using G-tube pads or gauze and allowing the site to stay dry and uncovered.
If formula is leaking directly from the tube, that typically means the tube’s anti-reflex valve is no longer working. If the button leaks regularly when you open it, flush it with warm water. If this does not help, you may need to replace the button in order to stop the leakage.
To avoid general leakage, please make sure you are using the right size tube, and that the tube site is not damaged or stretched out. This resource has good information on living with a G-tube and avoiding leakage.
Feeding tube infection
Proper daily care and correct use of feeding tube supplies is necessary to avoid gastrointestinal and skin infections related to tube feeding. In order to prevent these infections, make sure you:
- Use a new feeding bag as often as prescribed, typically daily
- Use a new syringe every day
- Follow the formula mixing instructions extremely carefully
- Wash your hands every time you handle a feeding tube
- Refrigerate leftover formula and discard after 24 hours
Side effects: Upset stomach, diarrhea, constipation, back pain
Your body digests feeding tube nutrition the way it would digest nutrition from any other food. Like with any other sudden change in diet, you may experience stomach-related side effects. While side-effects are unpleasant, they are also quite common and manageable. Because everyone’s health situation is different, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to mitigating these symptoms. Work with your doctor or healthcare professional prior to beginning tube feeding in order to minimize any adverse tube feeding side effects.