Nasogastric Intubation Technique

Updated: May 26, 2017
  • Author: Gil Z Shlamovitz, MD, FACEP; Chief Editor: Vikram Kate, MBBS, MS, PhD, FACS, FACG, FRCS, FRCS(Edin), FRCS(Glasg), FIMSA, MAMS, MASCRS  more...
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Technique

Placement of Nasogastric Tube

Explain the procedure of nasogastric (NG) intubation, as well as its benefits, risks, complications, and alternatives, to the patient or the patient's representative.

Examine the patient's nostril for septal deviation. To determine which nostril is more patent, ask the patient to occlude each nostril and breathe through the other.

Instill 10 mL of viscous lidocaine 2% (for oral use) down the more patent nostril with the head tilted backwards (see the images below), and ask the patient to sniff and swallow to anesthetize the nasal and oropharyngeal mucosa. In pediatric patients, do not exceed 4 mg/kg of lidocaine. Wait 5-10 minutes to ensure adequate anesthetic effect.

Aspiration of viscous lidocaine into a syringe. Aspiration of viscous lidocaine into a syringe.
Instillation of viscous lidocaine 2%. Instillation of viscous lidocaine 2%.

Estimate the length of insertion by measuring the distance from the tip of the nose, around the ear, and down to just below the left costal margin. This point can be marked with a piece of tape on the tube. When using the Salem sump NG tube (Kendall, Mansfield, MA) in adults, the estimated length usually falls between the second and third preprinted black lines on the tube (see the image below).

Estimation of nasogastric tube length from nostril Estimation of nasogastric tube length from nostril to stomach.

Apart from the nose-to-ear-to-xiphisternum (NEX) method, several other methods for determining the length of the tube have been described. Among the various options, a formula based on gender, weight, and nose-to-umbilicus measurement while lying flat was found to be safer and more accurate in a study by Santos et al. [7]

Position the patient sitting upright with the neck partially flexed. Ask the patient to hold the cup of water in his or her hand and put the straw in his or her mouth. Lubricate the distal tip of the NG tube (see the image below).

Nasogastric tube lubrication with water-based lubr Nasogastric tube lubrication with water-based lubricant.

Gently insert the NG tube along the floor of the nose, and advance it parallel to the nasal floor (ie, directly perpendicular to the patient's head, not angled up into the nose) until it reaches the back of the nasopharynx, where resistance will be met (10-20 cm). At this time, ask the patient to sip on the water through the straw and start to swallow (see the image below). Continue to advance the NG tube until the distance of the previously estimated length is reached (see the video below).

Patient flexing his neck and drinking water while Patient flexing his neck and drinking water while a nasogastric tube is inserted.
Nasogastric tube insertion.

Stop advancing the tube and completely withdraw it if, at any time, the patient experiences respiratory distress, is unable to speak, has significant nasal hemorrhage, or if the tube meets significant resistance. 

Fan et al described a no-swallow technique of NG tube intubation that relieves patient discomfort during the procedure. [8]  In this technique, when the tube reaches the pharynx, patients were required to take a deep breath and hold it, instead of swallowing as in the conventional technique. During breath-holding, the epiglottis covers the throat and the glottis closes, thereby reducing the likelihood of the tube entering the trachea.  When the tube was inserted 15-20 cm, the patient was required to perform abdominal breathing to reduce discomfort and avoid failure of tube intubation (some patients can only hold their breath for a short time).

This no-swallow technique was found to yield an increase in the success rate at first intubation, as well as reduced occurrence of nausea, tearing, mucosal injury, and changes in vital signs (heart rate, breath, systolic pressure), when compared with the technique used in the control group. [8]

Verify proper placement of the NG tube by auscultating a rush of air over the stomach using the 60 mL Toomey syringe (see the first image below) or by aspirating gastric content. The authors recommend always obtaining a chest radiograph (see the second image below) in order to verify correct placement, especially if the NG tube is to be used for medication or food administration. Colorimetric capnography is another valid method for verifying NG tube positioning in mechanically ventilated patients. [9]

Auscultation over the stomach. Auscultation over the stomach.
Nasogastric tube in lung. Nasogastric tube in lung.

Manometry is another safe and reliable method for differentiating airway placement of an NG tube from gastric placement. [10] A biphasic pressure change synchronous with airway pressure during mechanical ventilation indicates airway misplacement, and a pressure change during compression of the epigastric area indicates a gastric placement.

Apply benzoin or another skin preparation solution to the nose bridge. Tape the NG tube to the nose to secure it in place (see the image below). If clinically indicated, attach the tube to wall suction after verification of correct placement.

Secured nasogastric tube. Secured nasogastric tube.

Pearls

During insertion, if concern exists that the NG tube is in the incorrect place, ask the patient to speak. If the patient is able to speak, then the tube has not passed through the vocal cords and/or lungs.

The NG tube may coil in the nasopharynx or oropharynx. If this occurs, or if the tube is difficult to pass in general, try curling the distal end and partially freezing it in a cup of ice so it temporarily holds its curled shape better. Insert the lubricated tube tip through the nose with the curled end pointing downward. Once the distal tip passes into the hypopharynx, the curved tip faces anteriorly. Rotate the tube 180º so that the curved end points posteriorly toward the esophagus. Continue to insert in the usual manner by having the patient swallow water.

Another option (only in patients who are sedated and paralyzed) is to place two or three fingers through the patient’s mouth into the oropharynx. The fingers are used to guide the NG tube into the hypopharynx.

Lifting the thyroid cartilage anterior and upward might open the esophagus and allow passage into the proximal esophagus.

A method of freezing an NG tube with distilled water was shown to increase the success rate of insertion for intubated patients. [11]

Direct laryngoscopy or video laryngoscopy can aid in placing an NG tube in sedated patients by visualization of the tip entering the esophagus. [12]

Although pH, enzyme, bilirubin, and carbon dioxide testing have been used to distinguish respiratory from gastrointestinal placement of NG tubes, none of these methods has enabled detection of tube placement in the esophagus or gastroesophageal junction. [13] Therefore, the authors recommend the routine use of x-ray verification.

A survey of critical care nurses around the United States showed that recommendations from multiple national-level organizations to obtain radiographic confirmation that each blindly inserted feeding tube is correctly positioned before the first use of the tube are not adequately implemented. [14] Auscultation is widely used despite recommendations to the contrary.

In a randomized, controlled study that included 200 anesthetized patients, Appukutty et al found that three techniques can increase the success rate of NG tube placement. [15] The use of a ureteral guide wire as stylet or a slit endotracheal tube as an introducer increased the success rate in comparison with control subjects, though the latter technique significantly lengthened the time for insertion. However, head flexion with lateral neck pressure proved to be the easiest technique, with a high success rate and fewest complications.

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Complications

Some degree of patient discomfort is common. Generous lubrication, the use of topical anesthetic, and a gentle technique may reduce the patient’s level of discomfort. Throat irritation may be reduced with administration of anesthetic lozenges (eg, benzocaine lozenges) prior to the procedure.

Epistaxis may be prevented by generously lubricating the tube tip and using a gentle technique. Other complications that may occur are respiratory tree intubation and esophageal perforation.

The NG tube safety pack developed by Leeds Medical School in the United Kingdom is an innovative approach to reducing complications that makes guideline recommendations accessible and easy to follow by incorporating them into the pack design. [16] Innovations such as this can help anticipate and mitigate errors in the placement of an NG tube.

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