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How do you unclog a gastric tube?

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Whether you discover it at the beginning of your shift when checking placement or when you go to administer your next med, a clogged G-tube can be a nightmare of a fixer-upper.

You would think that in the world of nursing, we would have a tried and true method for unclogging it (or better yet, that the world of medicine would have an antidote of some sort).

Sorry, neither exists! It seems that every nurse has their own unclogging method, and here is mine.

It boils down to four major interventions that have always worked. Depending on the source of the clog, I may get away with only one of the three, or it may take a combination of ALL four:

ADJUST IT

  • This is a no-brainer, but you wouldn’t believe how the simplest of ideas are sometimes the best. Maybe there is an object clogging the tip? Maybe there is some sort of nasty sludge mucking up the entire end of the fenestrated tip? Who knows. Advance or retract the position by a centimeter or two and make another attempt at flushing

SNAKE IT

  • Just like it sounds. Depress and retract the plunger of the syringe to and fro while trying to flush the tube. Don’t be too forceful, but get a good “washing” motion. Once again, it’s not about increasing the force of your flush.

HEAT IT

  • Turn up the heat. I would make the temperature of the fluid/water as hot as you can tolerate. (Yes, you better test it first. I don’t think you want to burn your patient’s oropharynx, do you?)

CARBONATE IT

  • This is more like the last-ditch effort. Take your pick of what type of “soda” or carbonated drink to use, but make sure it’s carbonated. Fill the tube up and let it sit for a period of time. The carbonation will hopefully dissolve the blockage.

What are your best tips for unclogging a gastric tube?

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Sean Dent

Sean Dent is a second-degree nurse who has worked in telemetry, orthopedics, surgical services, oncology and at times as a travel nurse. He is a CCRN certified critical care nurse where he's worked in cardiac, surgical as well as trauma intensive care nursing. After five years practicing as an RN, Sean pursued and attained his Masters of Science in Nursing. Sean currently practices as a Board Certified Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNP-BC) in a Shock Trauma urban teaching hospital. He has been in healthcare for almost 20 years. He originally received a bachelor's degree in Exercise and Sport Science where he worked as a Certified Athletic Trainer (ATC).
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3 Responses to How do you unclog a gastric tube?

  1. MeganRN

    I try flushing with warm water first. If that doesn’t do it, then I use our unclogging kit, which is a tab of sodium bicarbonate (crushed) mixed with viokase (pancreatic enzymes) in 10-20mL water. You’ll have to let it sit for at least 10-15 minutes first, then shake it up to mix in a screw-top container to mix. Once mixed/dissolved, slowly instill it into the clogged G-Tube, J-Tube or dobhoff. You may only be able to dribble in a few drops at a time, but it works to unclog meds/tube feeds/gunk. It has to sit in the tube for 15-30 minutes, but the tube should flush great afterwards. If this doesn’t work, I want a KUB film to see if it is kinked or something.

  2. NCNurse09 Student

    Cranberry juice, especially when it is warmed up, is great! It breaks down gunked up feeding, and is ok for your diabetics. Just take it into account when you check their sugar. The cranberry juice is also good for a diabetic’s kidneys. You could also take the straight, unsharped side of your scissors, turn it at an angle, keep your thumb on the flat side of your scissors, away from the blade, and slide it down the tube. I’ve also used lube on my gloves, pinched the tube, and slide it towards the patients. Use a washcloth to cover the blade while sliding it down the tube. The cloth will protect your hand. Could do the same things with the closed side of the scissors and lube. Be sure to have a towel when you’re doing all of this, watch the short opening where meds can go in, because all of that pulling and tugging could cause it to open and spit at you…..Believe me, I know! be careful with the scissors and try to not cut yourself or the tube. I’ve used all of these methods for g-tubes. That is about all I mess with at my job. Snaking it helps too.

  3. wilsonbl5150

    I had a patient who told me this solution:Coffee. Warm to slightly hot decaf coffee. He had a tube for years and it was always getting clogged. He had tried the warm water, bicarb, soda, etc. and they didn’t always work. So he started experimenting and discovered coffee.