What Is Enteral Nutrition

All people need food to live. Sometimes a person cannot eat any or enough food because of an illness. Others may have a decreased appetite, difficulties in swallowing, or some type of surgery that interferes with eating. When this occurs, and one is unable to eat, nutrition must be supplied in a different way. One method is “enteral nutrition” or “tube feeding.”

Normal digestion occurs when food is broken down in the stomach and small intestine, then absorbed in the bowels. These absorbed products are carried by the blood to all parts of the body.

Tube feeding is a special liquid food mixture containing protein, carbohydrates (sugar), fats, vitamins and minerals, given through a tube into the stomach or small intestine.

Who Receives Tube Feeding?

People of all ages receive tube feeding. It may be given to infants and children, as well as to adults. People can live very well on tube feeding for as long as it is needed. Often tube feeding is used for a short time and the tube can be removed when the person is able to eat enough by mouth.

How Is Tube Feeding Supplied?

Tube feeding can be given through different types of tubes. One type of tube can be placed through the nose into the stomach or small intestine. This tube is called a nasogastric or nasoenteral feeding tube. Sometimes the tube is placed directly through the skin into the stomach or small intestine. This is called a gastrostomy or jejunostomy tube. Your healthcare team (doctors, nurses, dietitians, and pharmacists) will talk with you about the different types of feeding tubes. 

What is EN Illustration 
Illustration taken from The A.S.P.E.N. Nutrition Support Patient Education Manual 2008

How Many People in the U.S. Receive Tube Feeding?

Many patients in the U.S. receive tube feeding. According to Nationwide Inpatient Survey (NIS) latest available statistics, patients received tube feeding in over 250,000 hospital stays. About 25% of those were for children and newborns.* Individuals can also receive this therapy at home and in long-term care facilities. Over 400,000 patients receive this therapy at home.** For more information and updates on this topic, contact Peggi Guenter, PhD, RN Senior Director for ASPEN at [email protected].

* AHRQ Healthcare Costs and Utilization Project (HCUP) Nationwide Inpatient Sample (NIS) 2014 data. http://hcup.ahrq.gov/
** Mundi M, et al. Prevalence of home parenteral and enteral nutrition in the United States. Nutr Clin Pract. 2017.