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What Conditions Require Intravenous Feeding?

By Nicole Etolen
Updated May 17, 2024
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Intravenous feeding is required when a patient is not able to ingest, digest, or absorb nutrients from food. This type of feeding allows patients to get required nutrients through a needle or catheter placed in a vein. Conditions that may require intravenous feeding include those that affect the functioning of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and those that require allowing the bowel to have a period of complete rest.

Intravenous feeding is more commonly referred to as total parenteral nutrition (TPN), which is designed to deliver all vital nutrients through the vein. The solution that is injected into a central vein consists of sterile water, sugar, fats, and other nutrients. In obese patients or patients with certain medical conditions, the lipids may be withheld. Electrolytes may also be added, depending on the needs of the patient.

Conditions that affect the functioning of the GI tract include certain stages of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Crohn’s disease is type of inflammatory bowel disease that typically affects the intestines, causing the walls to become thick and inflamed. Ulcerative colitis also causes inflammation and sores, but generally affects the rectum and colon. Both conditions can result in chronic diarrhea and interfere with the intestine’s ability to absorb nutrients.

Patients with genetic GI abnormalities present at birth, or children suffering from chronic diarrhea, may also require intravenous feeding. TPN is also used for patients who have had their bowel shortened during surgery to treat a preexisting condition. In patients with bowel obstruction, temporary TPN may be required until the obstruction is resolved.

In a medical facility such as a hospital or nursing home, nurses will monitor the intravenous feedings. For patients requiring ongoing TPN, however, self-care will need to be taught. Prior to administering the feeding, patients should check to ensure the solution is completely clear with no floating material. The bag should be squeezed to check for leaks. If the solution is cloudy or the bag leaks, patients should use a different bag, but keep the other one to show to their physician.

Intravenous feedings can cause several side effects. The most common are mouth sores from lack of oral fluids, skin changes, and poor night vision. Patients should contact their physician if they experience fever or chills, difficulty breathing, rapid changes in weight, abdominal pain, or muscle weakness. Other potential signs of a serious complication include vomiting, confusion, swelling or tingling in the extremities, and seizures. Intravenous feeding is not recommended for patients with an intact GI system because of the risk of complications.

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