Enteral nutrition

For people with medical conditions that prevent eating or drinking by mouth, the question of taking in enough food and liquid can be a difficult one to answer. Enteral nutrition is a means of getting calories, nutrients and liquid through a tube placed in the stomach. Bypassing the mouth and throat can be accomplished in several ways, depending on the needs of each individual. The important issue is devising a reliable and comfortable way for the patient to have adequate food and liquid intake.

Dysphagia is the medical term for the inability to eat or swallow, and is one of the most common reasons enteral feeding is started. Structural or neurological problems can make eating by mouth either impossible or dangerous. When swallowing is difficult or impossible, aspiration of food or liquid into the lungs can occur. The sensitive lung tissue is damaged and pneumonia can easily develop following aspiration.

Dysphagia can be caused my neurological problems like stroke, brain injury, Multiple Sclerosis, Polio, Parkinson’s disease, Cerebral Palsy or developmental disorders. Physical problems resulting from trauma to the head or neck, cancers of the oral cavity or throat and complications of spinal surgery can also lead to eating or swallowing difficulties. Disorders of the esophagus, the tube between your throat and stomach also contribute to severe swallowing problems.

Some patients need enteral feeding only temporarily. In the case of a severe infection, or following surgery the ability to eat by mouths regained after recovery.   When the condition causing eating difficulties is resolved, tube feedings will no longer be needed. Chronic conditions, such as cerebral palsy, paralysis or stroke, may be require enteral feeding permanently.  

Enteral feeding is accomplished in various ways, but always requires specialized tubing and supplies to deliver nutrition to the patient.  A wide variety of pre-mixed formulas and nutritional supplements can be used for feeding, depending on the nutritional needs of the patient.  In some cases, pureed foods can be used as well. Click here to read more about enteral feeding.

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