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News Author: Staff Editor Last Updated: Sep 7, 2017 - 10:06:33 PM

Swallowing Disorders: Making the Feeding Tube Decision

By Staff Editor
Dec 15, 2015 - 6:39:34 AM

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( - For anyone who has to contend with a swallowing disorder the important question that needs answering is whether to opt for a feeding tube or not.

The aim should be to make an informed decision once you know exactly what your options are and how your daily life will be impacted by the choice you make.

Dealing with dysphagia

When you have dysphagia, you are likely to experience difficulties swallowing certain types of foods and liquids.

Some more extreme dysphagia sufferers experience a sensation that food is stuck in their throat or chest but whatever level of swallowing disorder you are suffering from, there are options available to try and improve your ability to cope with the situation as best you can.

Whether you decide to opt for a product such as Thickit Food Thickeners or go down the route of considering a feeding tube, trying to weigh up all of your viable options can feel overwhelming.

Weighing up the benefits and burdens

There is no doubt that considering whether to insert a feeding tube is a real dilemma and the truth of the matter is there is not always a simple unequivocal answer to a question as important as it is.

The majority of clinicians would on balance probably recommend the tube feeding option when there is a scenario that temporarily prevents oral feeding, such as post-esophageal surgery. On the flip side, not many of these same medical professionals would suggest tube feeding when you are unable to eat as a result if an esophageal caused by an untreatable cancer.

Trying to find the answer to the question comes down to weighing up the potential benefits against the burden of fitting a feeding tube.

The main benefit of fitting a feeding tube would often be the opportunity to prolong the life of the patient whereas providing food and fluid without this assistance is often perceived to provide a greater level of care and comfort.

Another major consideration when it comes to a feeding tube is the discomfort caused by insertion and the fact that patients can often suffer from diarrhea as a result of regular tube feeding.

Different factors to consider

One of the difficulties you can face is that it is not always a straight choice between whether or not to use a feeding tube.

There are other questions which can come into play, such as when it is considered appropriate to begin and critically, when it is right to stop.

Feeding tubes are sometimes deployed as an interim measure for helping someone through a difficult period where they might be suffering from an acute condition that is affecting their ability to eat normally.

Feeding tubes are often considered as a long-term solution for anyone who has been diagnosed with dementia, mainly because their swallowing problems are anticipated to worsen over time. Some would argue that this could be considered to be a futile intervention as a number of these patients that would be fitted with feeding tubes, would actually be able to aspirate on their saliva or on regurgitated stomach contents.

Quality of life question

The process of inserting feeding tubes through the abdominal wall and into the stomach in order to deliver the level of nutrition required, can be felt as an invasion by the patient.

If the process itself was not invasive enough there are the complications that arise from having the tube fitted. Diarrhea is a common issue associated with this type of feeding arrangement and these problems can compound to include problems with bedsores.

If someone is suffering from dementia and has a tube fitted, they can still feel confusion and distress and the patient and their loved ones can start to question their quality of life.

Hospital policy

Budgets and bed spaces are often on the agenda with many hospitals and whilst it would be unfair to generalize that all of these medical establishments are the same, the goal is often to discharge a patient as quickly as possible.

This line of thinking could encourage a hospital to expedite the feeding tube route in order to try and solve their eating problems and get them discharged from the hospital as quickly as possible.

The question of whether to use a feeding tube is fundamentally dependent on each person's diagnosis and when you consider the other viable options that are considerably less intrusive, such as food thickeners, you may conclude that a feeding tube should be a last option after other avenues have been explored.

Rufus Moreno is a consultant who works at a private hospital in New York. Regularly needing to research and keep up with industry news he has started to share his medical knowledge with an online audience via blogging.


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