What are the risks of giving my child a G-tube?

For many parents of children with special needs, difficulties in swallowing and moving the mouth can often be a serious issue. If a child cannot eat, it is hard for parents to ensure that their child is receiving the nutrients that he requires. To address this problem, some children have gastric feeding tubes–also known as G-tubes–inserted into their digestive tract through a small incision in their abdomens. By using the tube, it is possible to feed a child certain formulas to fulfill his nutritional needs.

However, as a parent, caregiver or therapist, it is important to know that G-tubes come with certain risks associated with their use. Before deciding on the procedure for your child, you will need to understand how taking this step will affect his ability to interact with the world around him. Since the G-tube is a foreign object inserted directly into his system, it is possible that an injury or health-related issue can occur and negatively affect his condition. Therefore, it is necessary to review what his limitations will include once the procedure has been done, and what they will mean for your child’s daily life.

Possible complications

One of the best ways to be prepared for the procedure is to conduct research on what problems can arise afterwards. Here are a few of the consequences and complications that may happen:

  • Irritation. As one example, it is possible for irritation to occur at the insertion site due to leaking food and stomach acids. This can cause discomfort and also lead to more serious health issues.
  • Mechanical injury. Since the G-tube is inserted directly into the intestine, movement of the tube can cause mechanical injury and damage the digestive tract’s inner walls. This may lead to internal bleeding and peritonitis if the wound becomes infected. Mechanical injury can occur when the position of the tube shifts, so it is important to pay attention to your child’s movements and activity.
  • Peritonitis. Peritonitis is the inflammation of the membrane covering the inside of the abdominal cavity and organs. It is characterized by symptoms including tenderness and pain in the abdomen, fever, nausea, bloating, and difficulties in breathing. This condition may develop when part of the gastrointestinal tract is injured and infected by bacteria.

In addition to being aware of these issues, G-tubes may need to be cleaned or replaced after 5-6 months even when designed for long-term use. As well, it would be a good idea to consult a child health professional who is familiar with your child’s condition for any other complications that may arise as a result of your child’s specific condition.

How G-tubes affect therapy

Some children with G-tubes inserted into their digestive tract may attend treatment programs designed to address and improve their social skills, motor function and communication. Should this be the case, it is important to inform any licensed practitioners who may work with your child about his condition and specific needs. The therapist, for example, will need to be extremely careful when turning him onto his sides and stomach. As well, any other movements such as rolling will have to be done with caution, and careful supervision, as these movements may affect the position of the G-tube and lead to mechanical injuries like I mentioned before.

Final food for thought

With these issues in mind, my final advice would be to review each of the pros and cons of the procedure before making a decision. Conduct as much research as possible, and speak with a few child health professionals who can advise you on the possible effects of the system. As a parent, you are the one who knows your child, his condition, and his needs the best. So choose wisely, and put your child’s needs first.

Sources on types of tubes and when to replace tubes:
http://www.bcchildrens.ca/Services/SurgeryAndSurgSuites/GeneralSurgery/TubeFeeding/TypesOfTubes/default.htm
http://www.pediatricfeeding.org/tube_feeding.html

Sources on complications such as irritation, peritonitis and internal bleeding:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10353416

http://www.bcchildrens.ca/Services/SurgeryAndSurgSuites/GeneralSurgery/TubeFeeding/Commoncomplications/default.htm

If you have any questions, concerns or feedback, feel free to contact me by email or leave me a comment down below. Thanks!

Natan

About the author

Natan Gendelman has written 188 articles for Enabled Kids.

Natan Gendelman is licensed as a physical therapist in Russia and Israel. After moving to Canada, he was certified as a kinesiologist and osteopathy manual practitioner. Natan has more than 20 years of experience providing rehabilitation and treatment for conditions such as cerebral palsy, autism, Down syndrome, pediatric stroke and acquired brain injury. He is the founder and director of Health in Motion Rehabilitation, a Toronto-based clinic whose main objective is to teach their patients the independence necessary for success in their daily lives.

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