What Are the Side Effects of Feeding Tubes?

A feeding tube is a long, narrow tube inserted into the stomach indirectly through the nose or mouth, or directly through the abdomen. During feeding, liquid food products pass into the stomach through the feeding tube, ensuring that patients receive adequate dietary nutrition and caloric intake. Each year, doctors place over 200,000 feeding tubes in patients, according to the Oral Cancer Foundation. Patients should discuss the potential side effects of feeding tubes with a medical professional before having a feeding tube placed.

Close-up of a newborn with a feeding tube. Credit: Rachel Donahue/iStock/Getty Images

Aspiration

One of the most common side effects of feeding tubes is aspiration, notes the Oral Cancer Foundation. Aspiration occurs when a patient inhales liquid food into the lungs as it passes along the feeding tube. Side effects of aspiration can include difficulty breathing, cough or recurrent lung infections such as pneumonia. To limit the development of such side effects, patients with feeding tubes should only be fed while sitting upright.

Irritation

Patients who receive a feeding tube can experience tissue irritation at the site of insertion, such as the nose, mouth or abdominal wall, the University of California Davis Medical Center reports. Irritation can result in sensations of pain or discomfort along the digestive tract and may contribute to upset stomach side effects in certain people. Stomach irritation can cause symptoms of diarrhea, nausea, vomiting or abdominal bloating.

Organ Puncture

Infrequently, a feeding tube may puncture an organ along the digestive tract, such as the stomach. Organ puncture increases a patient's risk of leaking blood or ingested food products into the abdominal cavity. If this occurs, patients can develop a severe abdominal infection called peritonitis, the University of Pennsylvania Health System warns. Side effects of peritonitis can be life-threatening, and include fever, abdominal swelling and pain, nausea, vomiting or diminished appetite.

Misplacement or Migration

Feeding tube misplacement or migration can arise as a side effect. Tube misplacement can result in heart rate or breathing abnormalities, especially in infants, according to MedlinePlus. If a feeding tube migrates out of its appropriate position, a patient may need to undergo additional surgery to have the feeding tube replaced in its proper spot. Feeding tube misplacement or migration also increases a patient's risk of experiencing tissue irritation along the length of the tube.

Infection

Feeding tubes can elevate a patient's risk of infection, the UCD Medical Center reports. Infection symptoms include fever, chills, pain and fatigue. Affected patients typically require additional antibiotic treatment to resolve infection side effects resulting from feeding tubes.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
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