A feeding tube, also referred to as a PEG (Percutaneous Endoscopic Gastrostomy) tube, is sometimes needed when a patient can not adequately take in enough nutrients by mouth. This may occur when someone has had a stroke, when they have advanced dementia, or when they are being treated for a cancer in the throat and can’t swallow safely.
The procedure is done endoscopically, meaning it is placed during a standard upper endoscopy (EGD). It is placed with the assistance of a nurse or technician. Only one small incision is made in the abdomen during this procedure, and this is where the tube will come out. The patient is asleep during this procedure, and it takes only about 20 to 30 minutes to perform. An antibiotic is given through the IV just before the procedure is performed. When you wake up, the tube will be present in its position, which is usually in the upper abdomen.
It is a very safe procedure, with possible complications similar to a regular upper endoscopy, in addition to the rare possibility of infection of the site or placing the tube through an area besides the stomach.
Care of the feeding tube is fairly simple. The doctor will usually see you in the office or hospital within the first few days after the procedure, to check the placement of the tube and to loosen the plastic “bumper” on the outside. You may use a gauze dressing for the first few days after its placement to keep the tube site covered, but this is usually not necessary. You can use regular soap and water with gauze or a clean cloth to clean the area if there is residue or fluid at the site. An antibiotic ointment is usually not necessary.
When you are not using the tube, you can simply use medical tape to tape it to your skin, or use a clamp to fix it to the inside of your shirt. It is easily concealed underneath your clothes. It is important to flush the tube with water after every feeding and medication placement, as the most common issue with the tube is getting clogged up and blocked from dried food or medication residue. A small amount of leaking around the tube initially is not unusual, however this should go away after a few days. Call the doctor’s office if any of the following occur:
- Leaking from the tube site persists or gets worse
- There is persistent redness or pain around the site
- The tube becomes clogged
- You develop severe abdominal pain or vomiting
- You develop fever