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Tube Feeding: Enteral Nutrition vs. Parenteral Nutrition

Tube Feeding: Enteral Nutrition vs. Parenteral Nutrition
Shweta Chaubey

What is Enteral Nutrition?

Nutrition is indispensable for a healthy life. Eating food is the most common way of providing nourishment to the body. However, sometimes, eating food is not possible either due to an illness, surgery, or decreased appetite. In such a situation, nutrition is compromised, rendering one weak and prone to severe ailments.

To avoid conditions of malnourishment, food is supplied in different ways. One such method is "tube feeding" or "enteral nutrition." Normal digestion happens only when the food is broken down in the stomach, absorbed by the small intestine in the bowels, and carried blood to the body. The food provided to the body via tubes is quite distinctive. Tube feeding formula is a special liquid mixture of protein, fats, carbohydrates (sugar), minerals, and vitamins, delivered to the stomach or small intestine via a tube. Who can receive Tube Feeding? Anybody can receive tube feeding. It can be given to infants or adults, whoever may require it. One can live comfortably on tube feeding for as long as the need be. Usually, tube feeding is used for a short time. The tube is removed once the person resumes eating via the mouth.

How is Enteral Nutrition supplied?

Tube feeding is dispensed via various types of tubes. Tubes placed via the nose into the stomach or small intestine are called nasogastric or nasoenteral feeding tubes. The tubes placed into the stomach or small intestine directly via the skin are called a gastrostomy or jejunostomy tubes.

Difference Between Enteral and Parenteral Feeding

The terms enteral and parenteral look and sound alike. In reality, they mean very different things. The major difference lies in the location where the nutrition is processed. Enteral feeding resorts to the liquid food processed by the GI tract. Patients prescribed enteral feeding consume their meals via tube connecting to their stomach or small intestine. This type of feeding provides supplemental nutrition and is often responsible for the patient's total caloric intake. Parenteral feeding refers to the liquid nutrition processed through the veins. Patients are fed parenterally while recovering from surgery or other medical procedures for both short and long-term.

Parenteral feeding is designed to assist patients with gastrointestinal issues, leading to improper digestion of food. Subsequently, it also improves health and energy. However, a greater degree of risk is involved in parenteral nutrition. People recovering from an illness or injury present a safe and effective way to maintain energy and promote healing. Although enteral nutrition isn't necessarily better than parenteral nutrition, it is less invasive and sends nutrients directly to the gastrointestinal tract.

Moreover, feeding tubes are easy to clean and sterilize compared to catheters or ports. Despite all the distinctiveness, the purpose of parenteral and enteral nutrition is alike; both prevent malnourishment.

When is Parenteral Nutrition given?

A patient suffering from the following conditions may benefit from parenteral feeding.

  • Crohn's disease
  • Short bowel syndrome
  • Low blood flow to the bowels
  • Ischemic bowel disease
  • Cancer

Parenteral feeding administers carbohydrates, sugars, proteins, lipids, and other nutrients via a needle and into a vein. These nutrients are essential to offer energy and hydration to the patient. There are two types of parenteral feeding:

  • Total parenteral nutrition (TPN)- When patients have long-term nutritional needs, they receive TPN. It requires a brief outpatient procedure involving a medical provider inserting a central catheter into the superior vena cava. This major vein carries blood from the head and chest to the heart. The care provider may also recommend the installation of a needleless access port to make the feeding easier.
  • Peripheral parenteral nutrition (PPN) - When one is recovering from an operation or another medical procedure and has a short-term need for artificial feeding, they are given PPN. It is administered via a traditional, external IV.

Does Enteral or Parenteral Nutrition involve risks?

Enteral and parenteral nutrition are fairly safe and usually well-tolerated procedures, yet it is essential to understand that they are not completely devoid of risks. Some potential side effects of artificial feeding include:

  • Food getting into the lungs (aspiration)
  • Infection of the tube or insertion site
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Skin irritation
  • Tube blockage
  • Tube dislodgement
  • Liver disease
  • Blood clots
  • Catheter infections
  • Memory loss
  • Increased urination
  • Bone disease
  • Fatigue

Both enteral and parenteral feeding demand significant lifestyle changes. To diminish the risk of these and other issues, regularly clean and sterilize all the feeding components. It's natural to feel stressed out or overwhelmed in the beginning. But as the days pass, you'll get accustomed to the routine.

In case you have any questions, talk to your medical team. Why is Enteral Feeding preferred over Parenteral Feeding? Medical experts prefer recommending enteral over parenteral feeding because it's less straining on the body and one's pocket and has fewer complications. In addition, enteral feeding allows for more efficient nutrient consumption and encourages the body's natural healing process by stimulating intestinal blood flow.


Disclaimer: All content found on our website, including images, videos, infographics, and text were created solely for informational purposes. Our content should never be used for the purpose of diagnosis or treatment of any medical conditions. Content shared on our websites is not meant to be used as a substitute for advice from a certified medical professional. Reliance on the information provided on our website as a basis for patient treatment is solely at your own risk. We urge all our customers to always consult a physician or a certified medical professional before trying or using a new medical product.


HPFY Shweta Chaubey

Shweta Chaubey

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Shweta Chaubey, has been a Health Products For You contributor since 2021. An advocate-turned-writer, her desire to create meaningful and positive content has brought her to HPFY and what better than writing ...

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