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What are the different ways a person can be fed artificially?

Jorge Vargas, MD
Pediatric Gastroenterology
A person can be fed artificially in one of two ways: via tube feeding (enteral nutrition) or intravenous feeding (parenteral nutrition). Though the mechanisms vary, the overall goal is the same: to provide carefully calibrated nutrition in liquid form to individuals who cannot digest food normally due to intestinal failure or intestinal insufficiency.

Enteral nutrition (EN) delivers a “pre-digested” formula via infusion into the stomach or small intestine of an individual who has a functional gastrointestinal (GI) tract but is unable to eat and drink. The custom-tailored formula contains protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.
  • For transient EN – until a person can feed on his or her own – a nasogastric or nasojejunal tube is typically used. For longer duration nutritional management, a gastrostomy tube (G-tube) or gastro-jejunal feeding catheter (G-J tube) is inserted directly into the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.
  • Tube feeding may be indicated for a broad spectrum of conditions including infant prematurity, chronic eating disorders, GI surgery, digestive cancer and dysphagia (swallowing difficulty) due to stroke.
For people with a nonfunctional GI tract, parenteral nutrition (PN) supplies precise nourishment into the bloodstream through a catheter connected to a programmable pump and inserted into a central vein, sometimes over a span of 10-12 hours, five to seven days a week.
  • Intravenous feeding may be employed short term, as in the case of intractable vomiting during pregnancy, or on a more extended or permanent basis with conditions such as short bowel syndrome and gastrointestinal obstruction, together affecting up to half of all children and adults needing PN.
If the GI tract is at all functional and EN is not indicated, partial parenteral nutrition (PPN) is preferred to the more physiologically complex total parenteral nutrition (TPN), in which a person receives all nourishment through an intravenous line.

This content originally appeared online at UCLA Health.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.