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Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2003 May;6(3):327-33.

The nasogastric feeding tube as a risk factor for aspiration and aspiration pneumonia.

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  • 1Departments of Gastroenterology and Surgery, Federal University of Parana, Hospital Nossa Senhora das Gra├žas, Curitiba, Brazil.



Aspiration is one of the most common complications in enterally fed patients. The source of aspiration is due to the accumulation of secretions in the pharynx of reflux gastric contents from the stomach into the pharynx. The true prevalence of aspiration is difficult to determine because of vague definitions, poor assessment methods, and varying levels of clinical recognition.


There is evidence in the literature showing that the presence of a nasogastric feeding tube is associated with colonization and aspiration of pharyngeal secretions and gastric contents leading to a high incidence of Gram-negative pneumonia in patients on enteral nutrition. However, other aspects may be equally important and should also be considered when evaluating a patient suspected of having aspiration and aspiration pneumonia. The mechanisms responsible for aspiration in patients bearing a nasogastric feeding tube are (1). loss of anatomical integrity of the upper and lower esophageal sphincters, (2). increase in the frequency of transient lower esophageal sphincter relaxations, and (3). desensitization of the pharyngoglottal adduction reflex.


Sometimes it is possible to differentiate whether the aspirate is gastric or pharyngeal. The kind of bacterial contamination is, however, more difficult to establish. Oral or dental disease, antibiotic therapy, systemic illness or malnutrition and reduction of salivary flow are responsible for colonization of Gram-negative bacteria in oral and pharyngeal flora in nasogastric-tube-fed patients. The use of a nasogastric feeding tube and the administration of food increase gastric pH and lead to colonization of gastric secretions. It has also been suggested that gastric bacteria could migrate upward along the tube and colonize the pharynx.

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