A gastrointestinal tube (feeding tube or enema tube) is needed when a child has a condition that prevents normal eating or bowel movements. They help ensure a patient receives the nutrients they need. Some gastrointestinal tubes deliver nutrition directly to the stomach or small intestine while others allow enemas to be placed directly into the large intestine. They can also be used to deliver medicines.
A range of medical conditions may prevent children from eating and drinking by mouth. They include:
- Congenital conditions such as esophageal stenosis, esophageal atresia with tracheoesophageal fistula and microgastria
- Jaw deformities
- Facial trauma
- Cleft lip and palate
- Abnormalities in the gastrointestinal tract
- Swallowing and sucking disorders
- Brain injury
- Neuromuscular conditions such as cerebral palsy
- Developmental delays
- Failure to thrive
A gastrointestinal tube is placed into your child's body by an interventional radiologist or a pediatric surgeon during a procedure called a gastrointestinal intervention. A feeding tube or enema tube can be placed by an interventional radiologist using live imaging (X-ray or ultrasound). Live imaging helps the interventional radiologist precisely guide the tube to the correct location. Feeding tubes can be placed by a surgeon through an upper endoscopy procedure.
The most common gastrointestinal tubes are:
- Gastrostomy tube (G-tube). A G-tube is inserted through the abdomen and into the stomach. This allows liquid nutrition to be given directly into the stomach, bypassing the mouth and esophagus.
- Gastrostomy button (G-button). A G-button is a low-profile version of the G-tube. The button is inserted through the abdomen and into the stomach to allow liquid feedings to be given directly into the stomach.
- Gastrojejunostomy feeding tube. A gastrojejunostomy feeding tube leads into the small intestine. It allows nutrition to be given directly into the small intestine, bypassing the mouth, esophagus and stomach.
- Cecostomy tube. A cecostomy tube leads into the large intestine (bowel). It allows enemas to be given directly into the bowel, which is more effective than inserting enemas through the anus.
A gastrointestinal intervention normally takes about an hour, including time for diagnostic and interventional anesthesia.
What to Expect
What to Expect
A gastrointestinal intervention includes the following steps:
- Your child will be put to sleep and monitored closely by an anesthesiologist.
- If an interventional radiologist performs the procedure, he or she will use a needle to inject a dye called contrast to make the area more visible through imaging.
- The interventional radiologist will make a very small incision in the skin.
- The interventional radiologist will then insert the gastrointestinal tube through the incision and guide it into place.
- If a surgeon performs the procedure, he or she will do this under direct vision using an upper gastrointestinal endoscope.
- Once the procedure is completed, your child will be taken to a recovery room to wake up.
- After your child awakens, he or she will be taken to a hospital room for care and observation. You should expect to stay in the hospital for at least one night.
- Your child will have some pain, so he or she may be given pain medicine.
- A nurse will use the gastrointestinal tube at least once to make sure it works correctly. The nurse will also show you and your child how to use the tube.
- A nutritionist will work with you to plan feedings.
Your child must come back every six months to have the old gastrointestinal tube exchanged for a new one. This is a simple procedure that may not require sedation. The procedure allows the doctor to examine the site of the tube and reduces the chance of clogging or infection.
Placing a gastrointestinal tube has some risks. Sometimes a child has bleeding where the tube comes out of the body. Rarely, an infection can happen. With abdominal organs so close together, damage to other organs, such as the liver or spleen, is possible. In rare cases, the procedure can damage the intestine and cause peritonitis (a serious infection caused by leakage from the intestine). Another rare occurrence is an allergic reaction to the contrast dye used during the procedure. Speak with your child's doctor to learn more about the risks associated with this procedure.
Key Points to Remember
Key Points to Remember
- A gastrointestinal tube is needed when a child has a condition that prevents normal eating or makes bowel movements difficult.
- A gastrointestinal tube is placed during a procedure called a gastrointestinal intervention.
- Your child will be under anesthesia during the gastrointestinal intervention.
- After your child’s procedure, a nurse will show you how to use the gastrointestinal tube.
- Your child will need to come back every six months to have the old tube exchanged for a new one. This procedure may not require sedation.
In addition to our primary hospital location at the Academic Health Center in Indianapolis, IN, we have convenient locations to better serve our communities throughout the state.
Riley Outpatient Center at IU Health
Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology & Nutrition
575 Riley Hospital Dr
Indianapolis, IN 46202