Numerous complications have been encountered with small-bore nasoenteric feeding tubes, some potentially life threatening. Patients particularly at risk are those with anatomic abnormalities, debilitation, or neurologic impairment. Fluoroscopy has been reported to be a safe, efficacious modality for the placement of these tubes. Thirty critically ill patients were studied to assess caloric delivery, costs, and complications associated with both fluoroscopically and blindly placed feeding tubes. All patients had either a tracheostomy or an endotracheal tube. They were randomized to group A (fluoroscopy) or group B (blind). Caloric delivery was greater in group A patients on days 1 through 5, with statistically significant differences on days 1 through 4. The mean daily calories per patient over the study period was 1135 +/- 96 and 662 +/- 110 (mean +/- SEM) in groups A and B, respectively (P < 0.01). Costs were similar in both groups. The most frequent problems encountered were difficult insertion, tubes requiring replacement, and failure to intubate the duodenum. We conclude that critically ill patients intubated either endotracheally or with tracheostomy should have nasoenteric feeding tubes placed with the guidance of fluoroscopy.