Nasogastric (NG) Tube

An NG Tube Is Sometimes Used In Patients Who Have IBD

Nasal Cavity
A nasogastric tube is inserted through the nostrils and down the throat into the stomach. This tube can be used to put substances into the stomach, or take them out.. Image © LEONELLO CALVETTI / Science Photo Library / Getty Images

A nasogastric (NG) tube is a flexible tube of rubber or plastic that is passed through the nose, down through the esophagus, and into the stomach. It can be used to either remove substances from, or add them to, the stomach. An NG tube is only meant to be used on a temporary basis and is not for long-term use.

NG tubes after surgery for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) used to be very common and was done as a matter of course.

It's now thought that an NG tube is not always needed for every type of surgery or for every patient. Before you have surgery, discuss the NG tube with your surgeon to find out if one will be placed after surgery, or if there are any circumstances or complications that can arise which will mean that an NG tube is needed. 

Why Are NG Tubes Used?

People with IBD sometimes have NG tubes placed, especially while in the hospital. An NG tube might be put in place for several reasons, including:

  • administering nutrients or medication
  • removing liquids or air from the stomach
  • adding contrast to the stomach for x-rays
  • protecting the bowel after surgery or during bowel rest

Not everyone who has surgery for IBD has an NG tube: it depends on the reason for the surgery and the decision of the surgical team. Sometimes NG tubes are a way to treat an intestinal blockage associated with IBD, without having to do surgery.

In some cases, when a person is unable to tolerate solid foods by mouth, an NG tube might be used to give nutrients. It can also be used to give medications, which can be really helpful for some medical situations.

How Are NG Tubes Put In?

An NG tube will be placed by a healthcare professional, such as a physician or a nurse, and it's typically done in the hospital.

It might be done while a patient is asleep (sedated), but it is often done when the patient is awake. Local sedation of the nostrils with lidocaine or an anesthetic spray might be used.

The NG tube is inserted up through the nostrils and down through the esophagus and into the stomach. The patient is usually told to swallow while the NG tube is being placed. The procedure is uncomfortable, but it shouldn't be painful because that could indicate that the tube is not placed properly.

After the tube is in, the healthcare team will check to make sure it's in the right place and everything has gone as it should. One way of doing this is by taking an x-ray, which will show the placement of the tube. Another way is by using the tube to add or remove some stomach contents, which can show that the tube is properly placed in the stomach. The tube will be taped down in place so that it doesn't become dislodged accidentally.

What Are Some Potential Problems After an NG Tube?

NG tubes can be very effective at treating some conditions and in administering medications, but they're not without the potential for some less-than-desirable effects.

People with an NG tube might experience some symptoms such as diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, or abdominal cramps or swelling. 

What Are The Risks Of An NG Tube?

While most NG tubes are placed without any incident, there are some risks. One of the things that can happen while the tube is being inserted is an injury to the esophagus, throat, sinuses, or stomach. It's possible that If an NG tube gets blocked or torn, or if it comes out of place, there can be further problems. There's also a possibility for any food or medicine being put through the tube to be regurgitated or to go into the lungs (aspirated). The healthcare professionals who place nasogastric tubes are trained to be on the lookout for any potential complications.

What Does an NG Tube Feel Like?

Most patients agree that an NG tube is a difficult thing to deal with, and can be uncomfortable, especially when it's being placed. However, it can help prevent surgery in some cases, such as with an intestinal blockage. It is uncomfortable, but it shouldn't be painful. An NG tube is temporary, so it will only be in place for as long as it's needed, which, in many cases may only be for a few days.

Pronunciation: nay-zoh-GAS-trik toob


Nelson R, Edwards S, Tse B. "Prophylactic nasogastric decompression after abdominal surgery." Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2007 Jul 18;(3):CD004929. 1 Feb 2016.

Medscape. Shlamovitz GZ, Kate V. "Nasogastric Intubation." 7 Aug 2015. 3 Feb 2016.

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