A nasogastric tube (NG tube) is a type of medical catheter that’s inserted through your nose into your stomach. It’s used for limited periods to deliver substances such as food or medications to your stomach or to draw substances out.
A nasogastric tube (NG tube) is a thin, flexible plastic tube that’s used for temporary medical purposes. “Nasogastric” means “nose to stomach”. The tube is designed to pass through your nasal cavity into your throat and down through your esophagus into your stomach. Healthcare providers use different types of nasogastric tubes to deliver substances to your stomach or draw substances out.
Nasogastric tubes are used both to deliver substances to your stomach and to draw substances out. They’re often used for short-term tube feeding and to deliver oral medications to hospitalized people. They can also suction out stomach contents to relieve pressure or remove poisons.
The two primary purposes of the nasogastric tube are short-term tube feeding (and medication administration) and gastric suctioning (stomach pumping).
The NG tube can deliver special nutrition, as well as medication, directly to your stomach. You may need tube feeding (enteral nutrition) if you aren’t getting adequate nutrition from oral feeding. This may be the case if you have a condition that affects your appetite or makes it difficult to chew or swallow. Sometimes hospital patients just need additional nutrition to support their healing.
Some conditions that may require temporary tube feeding through a nasogastric tube include:
Your healthcare provider may use a nasogastric tube to draw contents out of your stomach, either as a precaution or as an emergency procedure. If you swallow poison or overdose on pills, they will pump the toxic contents out. If a medical condition or procedure causes your stomach to become overfull and distended, they will draw out the contents to decompress your stomach and prevent regurgitation.
Some conditions that may require gastric suctioning through a nasogastric tube include:
The two main types correspond to the two main purposes of the nasogastric tube.
The single-lumen NG tube has a single, narrow channel for delivering medications and nutrition one way into your stomach. The channel has a small diameter (“small bore”) to make it as comfortable as possible, since it may be in place for up to several weeks. The Levin and the Dobhoff are the two main models in use. The main difference between them is that the Dobhoff tube has a weight on the end.
The double-lumen NG tube is specially designed for suctioning, but it can also be used for other purposes. It has two channels: a wider one to suction through and a narrower one that acts as an air vent to relieve the vacuum pressure. This helps prevent the tube from adhering to your stomach lining while suctioning. There are several models, but the Salem Sump™ may be the most common one.
A trained healthcare provider will carefully prepare you before placing the tube. They will:
Healthcare providers use different techniques to estimate the length of the tube they will need to reach your stomach (or sometimes, the upper part of your small intestine). The length is proportional to your body size, so they may measure it against other distances on your body. Or they may use general measurements: for example, 55 cm is the average length needed to reach the adult stomach.
Your trained healthcare provider will:
Your provider must verify the correct placement of the nasogastric tube to prevent serious complications. They will do this using one of two tests:
It can be a little uncomfortable, but hopefully not acutely painful. Healthcare providers can take certain steps to minimize your discomfort before, during and after insertion. For example:
It’s only designed to be used for up to six weeks. If you end up needing enteral nutrition for longer than that, your healthcare provider will recommend switching to another kind of feeding tube. A gastrostomy or gastrojejunostomy tube feeds directly into your stomach or small intestine through a small incision in your abdomen. These tubes require minor surgery to install, but they’re safer for long-term use.
The NG tube doesn’t require surgery to install and can be installed quickly and safely in most people. This is especially helpful in an emergency, such as toxic ingestion, when you need to have your stomach pumped. It allows patients in diminished states of health to benefit from enteral nutrition without having to undergo surgery. It also provides helpful short-term uses, such as stomach decompression.
If the tube is installed correctly, complications and side effects are relatively minor. They might include:
These complications resolve when the tube is safely removed.
In the event of a bad installation, more serious complications could include:
Alert your healthcare provider immediately if you notice:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
A nasogastric tube may not be the most pleasant thing to have in your body, but it’s tolerable and has many important uses. It’s used preventatively during surgery, therapeutically for many conditions and sometimes as an emergency intervention. Most of us would prefer not to need one, but if you ever do, it might save your life. Or it might play an important role in a longer recovery process.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/20/2022.
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