Jejunal Tube Feeding –ESPGHAN Position Paper

A recent position paper (IJ Borekaert et al. JPGN 2019; 69: 239-58) makes 33 recommendations on the use of jejunal tube feedings.

Full Text Link: The Use of Jejunal Tube Feeding in Children: A Position Paper by the Gastroenterology and Nutrition Committees of the European Society for Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition 2019.

Here are a few of the recommendations:

  • #1 Jejunal feeding is route of choice for enteral nutrition with failure of oral and intragastric feeds or gastric outlet obstruction
  • #5 Expert group recommends the use of jejunal feeding in children with acute pancreatitis only in cases in which oral or gastric feeding is not tolerated
  • #6 Recommends trial of continuous gastric feeds or a hydrolyzed or elemental formula prior to jejunal feedings
  • #8 & 9 Expert group recommends to consider UGI/SBFT and an upper GI endoscopy in all patients before jejunal tube placement
  • #12 Recommends NOT to use jejunal tube feedings in preterm infants (<37 weeks gestation).  This is based on systemic reviews including Cochrane review which concluded “that there is no evidence of any benefit for transpyloric feeding in preterm infants compared to gastric feeding”
  • #21 Recommends monitoring for nutrient deficiencies –checking copper, zinc, selenium, and iron every 6-12 months (Low level of evidence).  The authors note that some studies have shown reductions in these nutrients; this may be related in part to be due to bypassing the duodenum
  • #24 Avoiding using jejunal tube for medication unless absolutely essential or delivery into the stomach is not possible

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Mortality After Feeding Tube Placement in Children with Neurologic Impairment

A population-based study (KE Nelson et al. Pediatrics 2019; 143: e20182863) used an administrative data based from Ontario, Canada to examine the mortality rates among children with a diagnosis of neurologic impairment who underwent either gastrostomy placement or gastrojejunal placement between 1993-2015.

Key findings:

  • Two-year survival after feeding tube placement was 87.4% and 5-year survival was 75.8%
  • Unplanned hospital days, emergency room visits and outpatient visits were not significantly different after tube placement compared to pre-tube placement.

The authors interpret their findings as showing a high mortality which is likely due to medical fragility as there was “stability of health care use before and after the procedure.”

In the associated commentary (by KJ Lee and TE Corden, e20183623) the authors note the placement of a Gtube often took place after an increase in health care in the weeks prior.  They recommended engaging in shared-decision making regarding Gtube placement prior to crisis.

My take: There have been a number of studies, particularly in adults, that have shown that Gtubes may not prolong survival in many conditions.  However, they have been shown to improve nutritional status, simplify care, and improve quality of life.

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Predicting the Need for Gastrojejunostomy Tube Placement Instead of Gastrostomy Tube Placement

A recent study (ME McSweeney et al. JPGN 2018; 66: 887-92) determined that preoperative characteristics were unable to determine which patients who had gastrostomy tube (GT) placement would ultimately need conversion to gastrojejunostomy (GJ) placement.

This retrospective study matched 79 GJ patients with 79 GT patients.

Key points: 

  • These patients had similar rates of successful preoperative nasogastric feeding trials (GT 84.5% vs GJ 83.1%), and similar rates of abnormal swallow studies (53.8% and 62.2% respectively).
  • In the entire cohort, 11 patients had fundoplication (all GJ patients)
  • GT patients were more likely to have tube permanently removed: 20.5% vs 2.5% for GJ patients. Many (45.6%) of the GJ converted patients went back to GT feeds
  • Overall, from an initial cohort of 902 patients, 8.8% “required conversion” to GJ feeds
  • GJ-converted patients had a trend towards fewer hospitalizations.

While not a result in the study, the issue of GJ compared with fundoplication is briefly discussed.  The authors in their discussion of preoperative workup state that

“the complications of fundoplication are more significant and the risks are higher than GJ placement”

In my view, this is one of the most consequential parts of their discussion.  While the authors have extensive experience, I think the issue regarding GJ tube placement and fundoplication is more murky.  GJ tubes can be difficult to maintain and I have not seen long-term well-controlled studies comparing outcomes between GJ placement and fundoplication.

Other pointers in the discussion:

  • Fundoplication has “minimal impact/no impact” to reduce respiratory-related admissions, mainly because the main mechanism is aspiration rather than reflux
  • For isolated oropharyngeal dysphagia, one could argue that “an enteral tube is not indicated anymore” based on published data

My take: This is an important retrospective study that illustrates how difficult it is to know preoperatively which patients need GJ placement (or fundoplication) compared to GT placement alone.  In our institution, we are reluctant to place GT placement if a patient has not demonstrated tolerance of nasogastric feeds.

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Chronic Care Mode: GJ tube Data

A lot has changed in the field of pediatric gastroenterology since I completed my training 16 years ago.  One technology that is used frequently now is the gastrojejunal (GJ) tube for feeding neurologically-impaired children.  Previously, GJ tubes were used as a temporary solution.  Part of the rational for short-term usage was that these tubes were often difficult to maintain; they could easily become dislodged or clogged.

A recent study documents the more frequent usage of GJ tubes and their indefinite usage to treat complex feeding issues (JPGN 2013; 56: 523-27).

This retrospective chart review encompassed a 10 year period (1999-2009) at a single academic center.  In total 33 patients were treated with GJ tubes with 160 placements.  The mean age at initial placement was 6 years and the mean weight 19.4 kg. 76% of the patients had cerebral palsy/neurologic disorder, 21% had congenital heart disease, and 9% had chronic lung disease.

Common indications for replacement: dislodgment, obstruction, coiling into stomach, and broken tubing.

Three techniques were used:

  1. Fluoroscopy with guide wire and subsequent GJ
  2. Gastroduodenscopy via gastrostomy site to place guidewire for GJ placement
  3. Tube placement during esophagogastroduodenoscopy

Most procedures (85%) did not require sedation.


  • 13 (39%) maintained on GJ throughout study period
  • 10 (30%) converted to gastric or oral feeds
  • 5 (15%) surgical intervention
  • 5 (15%) deceased
  • Duration of tube survival: mean 91 days for Mic-Key GJ (low profile) and 177 days for  coaxial PEG-PEJ (e.g. 16 French Corflo gastric tube with 6 French jejunal tube)

When reading the study, it is hard to ignore Figure 3 which shows more than 30 placements per year after 2007 whereas the number was about two per year before 2001. In the discussion, the authors do not focus on how this technology has been embraced so widely.  It is mostly a discussion on the indications, methods, and complications.  Indications included high aspiration risk, intractable vomiting, failed Nissen fundoplication, and gastroparesis.  “Our study showed that long-term jejunal feeding via GJ tubes is possible and safe.”

My preference is generally to avoid GJ feedings as a primary intervention for long-term feeding problems.  That is, when patients need gastrostomy tube feeds but are prone to vomiting, most often a fundoplication is worthwhile.  When a patient has had a fundoplication that is no longer effective, a GJ tube should be considered.

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