Bedside methods to verify placement of a feeding tube are not accurate for detecting placement within the gastrointestinal tract, increasing risk of pulmonary aspiration. Current guidelines recommend verifying placement every 4 hours, yet the rationale for this recommendation is unknown.


To assess spontaneous migration of small-bore feeding tubes in critically ill adults.


A prospective, repeated-measures cohort study was performed in 2 intensive care units. An electromagnetic placement device was used to assess distal feeding tube location every 24 hours for 7 days. Tube migration between zones—esophageal, gastric, and postpyloric— was considered clinically significant.


Feeding tubes were analyzed in 20 patients. Interrater agreement was substantial for round 2 of a blinded analysis of insertion tracings (g = 0.78); 100% agreement was achieved after unblinding. Among 62 outcomes (migration assessments), 4 feeding tubes migrated 8 times (3 forward and 5 retrograde). All migrations occurred in the postpyloric zone and none were clinically significant. Within 24 hours of insertion, 50% of feeding tubes had migrated forward. Repeated-measures analysis showed a greater likelihood of migration in patients with an endotracheal tube (relative risk, 3.46 [95% CI, 1.14-10.53]; P = .03).


No tubes migrated retrograde into the stomach or esophagus, challenging the practice of verifying placement every 4 hours. Verification every 24 hours may be adequate if migration is not suspected. Also, lack of visible anatomical structures on insertion tracings from an electromagnetic placement device make subtle changes in postpyloric placement difficult to identify accurately.

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