Feeding Tubes & Parenteral (Intravenous) Nutrition

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: March 2018

Many of the treatments for blood cancer can cause nausea, vomiting, and mouth sores. Treatment may change the way foods taste, increasing bitter tastes or making foods taste bland, and some people experience a lack of appetite as a side effect. All of these side effects can lead to serious complications, including malnutrition and dehydration.

Most of the time, people get the nutrients they need by eating and drinking. However, if side effects from treatment make eating and drinking difficult, feeding tubes and intravenous (IV) lines may be used to deliver nutrients in certain circumstances. Maintaining proper nutrition is especially important during cancer treatment, as nutrients help the body heal and better manage treatment.1

What are feeding tubes?

Feeding tubes are small, thin tubes that are often inserted through the nose and threaded down the throat to the stomach. These are called nasogastric tubes. Some other types of feeding tubes are placed directly into the stomach or intestines through the skin of the abdomen, and they are called gastrostomy tubes (G-tubes) or jejunostomy tubes (J-tubes).1,2

Liquid nutrition is given through the tube, delivered directly into the stomach or intestines. Once in place, feeding tubes can be used at home after instruction by a healthcare professional. While the tubing should be kept clean, it does not need to be sterilized. Tube feedings should be given at room temperature, and most products do not require refrigeration. After giving the tube feeding, the tubes should be rinsed (as instructed). The area around the tubing should be inspected daily for any redness or skin irritation, and the tape that holds the tube in place should be replaced every other day. It is important to follow the instructions of your healthcare professional.1

Having a feeding tube does not always mean a person can’t eat. People with feeding tubes can often still eat and swallow with the tube in place.1

Even if a person with a feeding tube isn’t eating, dental hygiene is important. The mouth and teeth should be kept clean with proper brushing and rinsing for the health of the teeth and gums.1

What is IV nutrition?

IV nutrition is another way to give nutrients that can’t be eaten or swallowed, or if a person is having difficulty digesting their food. IV nutrition is also called total parenteral nutrition (TPN) or hyperalimentation. IV lines are thin lines that go into a vein in the body through a needle, catheter, or port (a port is a small disc that is permanently placed just under the skin). IV nutrition is generally recommended only for short-term treatment, as it can be taxing on the liver.1,3

Like with a feeding tube, IV nutrition can be managed at home after the patient or caregiver has been instructed on its use by a healthcare professional. IVs should be kept clean and dry, and the area around the insertion should be regularly inspected for any redness, pain, swelling, or warmth, which may indicate an infection. TPN is generally delivered into the IV with a pump, which delivers a steady flow of the nutrients into the tubing.1

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