For prolonged gastrointestinal decompression or enteral nutrition, gastrostomies are preferable to nasogastric tubes. To assess the safety of tube gastrostomy, the authors reviewed 424 gastrostomies systematically selected from a total of 3,359 done from 1975 through 1980. Feeding gastrostomies composed 22% of the total; the remaining 78% were done for decompression. Complications were rare (6.6% major, 6.6% minor) and were not influenced by patients' age. Perioperative steroid therapy promoted laparotomy wound infections. External and internal leakage of stomach contents, as well as bleeding from the gastrostomy site, were independent of the method of gastrostomy and the type of catheter used. Feeding gastrostomies were more likely to leak internally than were decompression gastrostomies. Unless the gastrostomy site was sutured to the anterior abdominal wall, there was a 7% incidence of extravasation of stomach contents into the peritoneal cavity after removal of the tube. The low complication rate justifies use of gastrostomies as an alternative to prolonged nasogastric intubation. Problems are minimized by employing the Stamm technique with a straight catheter and anterior gastropexy.