Buy this Article for $10.95

Have a coupon or promotional code? Enter it here:

When you buy this you'll get access to the ePub version, a downloadable PDF, and the ability to print the full article.


enteral nutrition, gastric juice, gastrointestinal, intestinal juice, intubation



  1. Metheny, Norma A.
  2. Stewart, Barbara J.
  3. Smith, Lisa
  4. Yan, Hua
  5. Diebold, Marilyn
  6. Clouse, Ray E.


Background: Currently available bedside methods for determining feeding tube placement often provide inconclusive results. Therefore, additional data are needed to assist nurses in making decisions regarding tube location.


Objectives: To describe the usual concentration of bilirubin in aspirates from newly inserted feeding tubes and to determine the extent to which these measures can contribute to pH alone in correctly predicting feeding tube location.


Methods: Gastrointestinal samples for concurrent pH and bilirubin testing were obtained from adult, acutely ill patients with newly inserted small-bore feeding tubes (nasogastric, n = 209; nasointestinal, n = 228) within 5 minutes of radiographs taken to determine tube location. Respiratory samples were tested (tracheobronchial, n = 126; pleural, n = 24). pH was measured with a pH meter, and bilirubin content was assayed spectrophotometrically. Results from the pH and bilirubin tests were compared with tube location as determined by radiography.


Results: Mean pH levels in the lung (7.73) and intestine (7.35) were significantly higher than the mean pH level in the stomach (3.90; p < .001 for each comparison). Mean bilirubin levels in the lung (.08 mg/dl) and stomach (1.28 mg/dl) were significantly lower than the mean bilirubin level in the intestine (12.73 mg/dl; p < .001 for each). By visually inspecting distribution overlap and mean differences by tube site, results were dichotomized so that a combination of pH and bilirubin values could be used to develop a predictive algorithm. A pH of >5 and a bilirubin value of <5 mg/dl correctly identified all respiratory cases, whereas a pH >5 coupled with a bilirubin level of >=5 mg/dl correctly identified three fourths of the intestinal cases. A pH of <=5 coupled with a bilirubin value of <5 correctly identified more than two thirds of the gastric cases.


Conclusions: Preliminary laboratory-based data indicate that appropriate use of the proposed algorithm could significantly reduce the number of x-rays needed to exclude respiratory placement and to distinguish between gastric and intestinal placement.