What do I need to know about feeding tubes?

08/Feb/2021     Health

Feeding Tube Awareness Week is celebrated nationally from 7 – 13 February to raise awareness and understanding in the community about tube feeding while highlighting some of the impacts it can have on patients, carers, families and clinicians.

Speech Pathologist Julia Matthews and Dietitian Bronwyn Bartholomew explained how tube feeding for patients is a complex and multidisciplinary process which is tailored to the individual needs of the patient to improve their health care outcomes while having a minimal impact on their quality of life.

Julia explains Dieticians and Speech Pathologists work collaboratively together to identify patients who would be good candidates for feeding tubes and advocate on their behalf.

“A feeding tube is administered when a patient is not able to take in adequate nutrition through their food. This could be due to swallowing difficulties, neurological conditions, surgical procedures and more,” said Julia.

“Not all patients with a feeding tube are restricted to only taking nutrition through their tube, they work with the Speech Pathologist to maximise their oral diet and can then be supplemented with extra nutrition through their feeding tube. This can take pressure of a patient to eat complete meals.”

Bronwyn said there are many common myths and misconceptions about tube feeding, people believe that it is a one size fits all approach however that could not be further from the truth as the team consult with each patient and customise care plans for individual needs.

“Speech Pathologists and Dietitians work together to find the most appropriate feeding solution. The Speech Pathologist identifies swallowing difficulties and the most appropriate diet for a patient and the Dietitian determines the adequacy of a patient’s diet and whether a feeding tube would be of benefit and determines whether a short-term feeding tube (nasogastric tube) or longer-term feeding tube (gastrostomy) is more appropriate,” Bronwyn said.

“From there the Dietitians will ensure the patient has adequate nutrition, which may be a balance between the food and fluids they are able to consume and additional nutrition through the feeding tube to make sure the patient receives the right amount of calories, fibre, protein, fluid and other nutritional requirements.”

Bronwyn explains that nasogastric feeding tubes can be placed by nurses or doctors at the bedside whereas gastrostomy tubes are placed by the Gastroenterology team to ensure the tube has been placed correctly. Once the feeding tube is in place, nurses play a vital role in monitoring the safe positioning of tubes.  

“It is imperative our patients remain appropriately nourished, we see great benefits in using feeding tubes as this can drastically improve a patients’ recovery process and health outcomes,” Bronwyn said.

“There are some cases where tube feeding may not be appropriate which is why our teams’ asses each patient on a case by case basis. We need to ensure tube feeding with bring the best outcomes for the patient.

“It may feel like there is no support for patients who require tube feeding in the community, however the transition is supported by a team of allied health specialists, doctors and nurses, who will always advocate for the best interest of their patient and support them and their carer." 

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