What is enteral nutrition?

Enteral nutrition is providing nutrients in a liquid form through a feeding tube using the enteral (gastrointestinal tract, or GI) system. This is in contrast to parenteral feeding, where nutrients are given intravenously directly into the bloodstream. Generally, enteral feeding is preferred over parenteral feeding because it’s considered safer, helps the body’s digestive system continue to function and allows for a better absorption of nutrients.

ETF (enteral tube feeding) can be used for people who are unable to swallow or who have medical conditions that prevent them from eating food through their mouth. ETF can also be used for people who need additional nutrients that they’re not receiving in their current diet. For example, people who have diseases that compromise their nerve function, like multiple sclerosis, a stroke or head injury; those with GI diseases; or other conditions that affect their ability to take in nutrients, may need enteral tube feeding. 

Through ETF, people can receive all the nutrients they need to survive. The liquid is a specialized formula of protein, carbohydrates and fats along with vitamins and minerals for complete nutrition. People of any age may receive ETF or supplemental enteral nutrition.

Tube feeding involves placing a small, thin, flexible tube into the body through the nose (or less frequently, the mouth) or directly into the stomach or small intestine. Tube feeding may be temporary or permanent.

Where the tube is placed depends on a number of factors, including the medical condition of the patient. For people who have difficulty swallowing, but the digestive system functions normally, the feeding tube could be inserted into the stomach either by threading it through the nose, down the esophagus and into the stomach (nasogastric) or the tube could be surgically inserted directly into the stomach. If the patient has difficulties with digestion, the tube may be inserted into the small intestine, either through the nose (again, passing through the esophagus and stomach) or directly into the small intestine through a surgical procedure.  

Your doctor will be able to give you additional details on the type of feeding tube that’s right for your needs. Also, the clinical team will teach you, or the person caring for you, how to use the feeding tube at home.


Related articles:
What types of feeding tubes are available?
How does a feeding tube work?
Commonly asked questions about nutrition & enteral feeding