Pulmonary complications of 9931 narrow-bore nasoenteric tubes during blind placement: a critical review

JPEN J Parenter Enteral Nutr. 2011 Sep;35(5):625-9. doi: 10.1177/0148607111413898. Epub 2011 Jul 28.


Introduction: A critical review of the pulmonary complications associated with blind placement of narrow-bore nasoenteric tubes (NETs) is discussed. Preventive measures and placement techniques are addressed to decrease patient morbidity and mortality.

Methods: A thorough database review was conducted to identify all randomized controlled and retrospective trials specifically addressing pulmonary complications from narrow-bore NET placement. Five unique studies, comprising more than 9900 NET placements, were identified. On the basis of the literature reviewed, the authors identified 3 major complications associated with blind NET placement: patient mortality directly resulting from NET misplacement, incidence of tracheopulmonary malpositioning, and correlation between NET misplacement and mechanical ventilation.

Results: Of the 9931 NET placements reviewed, there were 187 total improper tube placements in the tracheobronchial tree, which translates to a 1.9% mean overall malposition rate. Of these 187 misplacements, there were 35 (18.7%) reported pneumothoraces, at least 5 of which resulted in patient death. NET malpositioning was reported in 13%-32% of subsequent repositioning attempts. This increased risk exposes the patient population to a cumulative mortality from tracheobronchial malpositioning approaching >20%. Unexpectedly, of the 187 total misplacements, 113 (60.4%) of the patients were mechanically ventilated.

Conclusions: Practitioners need to be aware of the potential for pulmonary complications associated with blind NET placement. Changes in institutional protocol should be considered to minimize unnecessary risks. As with any procedure, experienced personnel should be primarily used for tube placement and responsible for assisting others with less familiarity to learn the proper methods.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Enteral Nutrition / adverse effects*
  • Enteral Nutrition / methods
  • Humans
  • Intubation, Gastrointestinal / adverse effects*
  • Intubation, Gastrointestinal / methods*
  • Pneumothorax / diagnostic imaging
  • Pneumothorax / etiology
  • Radiography
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Respiration, Artificial
  • Risk Factors
  • Treatment Outcome