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What is an Enteral Feeding Pump?

By Caitlin Kenney
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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An enteral feeding pump is an electronic medical device that controls the timing and amount of nutrition delivered to a patient during enteral feeding. Enteral feeding is a procedure in which the doctor inserts a tube into the patient’s digestive tract to deliver liquid nutrients and medicines to the body. Tube feeding is administered to patients who cannot eat normally due to oral cancer, surgery, injury, or another condition that affects the normal ingestion and digestion process in the gastrointestinal tract. The enteral feeding pump ensures that the right amount of liquid is administered to the body over the course of a day.

The GI tract is the series of organs that food passes through to be digested and excreted. From start to finish, this includes the mouth, where food is ingested, the pharynx, the esophagus, the stomach, and the intestines, or bowels, which are responsible for the final breakdown, absorption, and excretion of food. When this system is compromised, the patient may require enteral feeding. The tube, or catheter, can be inserted in several locations, usually the nose, stomach, or small intestine, depending on the patient’s needs. Patients may need this procedure if they have mouth or throat cancer, trauma to the mouth or throat, neurological disorders that prevent the patient from swallowing, or an eating disorder, such as advanced anorexia nervosa.

A nasal tube is a non-surgical procedure in which a tube is run through the patient’s nasal passageway, down the esophagus, and into the stomach. Patients who are ineligible for a nasal tube, such as those with injuries to the mid-face or obstructions in the esophagus, may receive a gastric feeding tube. During this procedure, the tube is surgically placed in the stomach, thereby avoiding the nose, mouth, and throat, but still using the stomach. When a patient’s stomach cannot be operated upon, however, doctors may insert a jejunostomy tube (J-tube) instead. The J-tube is a feeding tube that is run through the abdominal wall into the small intestine.

Once the tube is in place, the patient is connected to a bag containing liquid nutrition which drips through the catheter into the body. The amount of nutrition is entered into the electronic enteral feeding pump, which controls the flow of the nutrition so that the patient gets a measured amount of liquid continuously over a 24 hour period. Patients who are administering enteral nutrition independently may choose to set their enteral feeding pump on a cyclic cycle. This allows the patient to administer food over an eight-hour period throughout the night, permitting a more normal lifestyle without the pump during the day.

Generally, an enteral feeding pump is very accurate, but glitches in the electronic mechanisms can cause too much or too little nutrition to be administered to the patient. Many pumps come with several safety features to make such an error extremely unlikely. An enteral feeding pump may have a "no single point of failure feature," so that the pump either has back-up mechanisms if one component fails, or an audible indication that the pump is no longer working. These devices may also come equipped with a battery pack that kicks in if the electrical power has been dislodged.

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