Difference Between Enteral and Parenteral Nutrition

Both enteral and parenteral nutrition are clinical methods of delivering nutrients to the body when oral intake is not possible.The choice between enteral and parenteral nutrition depends on the patient's specific medical condition, the functionality of their GI tract, and the prescribed duration of nutritional support.Enteral nutrition can be used for both short-term and long-term nutritional support, depending on the patient's condition and needs where as parenteral nutrition is intended for short term used but it also can be used long term which careful monitoring.

Comparative Overview

Below is the difference between eternal nutrition and parenteral nutrition in the tabular format:

Aspect Enteral Nutrition Parenteral Nutrition
Definition Delivery of nutrients directly to the GI tract Delivery of nutrients directly into the bloodstream
Administration Routes NGT, nasointestinal tube, G-tube, J-tube PPN (peripheral vein), TPN (central vein)
Primary Indications Dysphagia, neurological disorders, cancer, GI surgery Severe GI dysfunction, short bowel syndrome, pancreatitis
Functional Dependency Requires functional GI tract Does not require functional GI tract
Benefits Maintains GI functionality, lower infection risk Complete nutritional support, tailored nutrient delivery
Risks Tube-related complications, aspiration, GI intolerance Higher infection risk, metabolic complications, liver dysfunction
Duration of Use Short-term and long-term Usually short-term, long-term with caution
Immune System Impact Supports immune function Higher risk of infections
Cost Generally lower Higher due to complex administration and monitoring

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What is Enteral Nutrition?

Enteral nutrition involves introducing nutrients through a tube straight into the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. When a patient can digest and absorb food, but is unable to consume orally because of a variety of diseases, such as dysphagia, neurological issues, or anatomical abnormalities, this approach is employed.

Types of Enteral Feeding Tubes

  1. Nasogastric Tube (NGT): Inserted through the nose into the stomach. Used for short-term feeding.
  2. Nasointestinal Tube: Inserted through the nose into the small intestine. Used when gastric feeding is not tolerated.
  3. Gastrostomy Tube (G-Tube): Surgically placed directly into the stomach. Suitable for long-term feeding.
  4. Jejunostomy Tube (J-Tube): Surgically placed into the jejunum. Used when gastric feeding is contraindicated.


  • Maintains GI tract functionality
  • Lower risk of infection compared to parenteral nutrition
  • More physiological nutrient absorption
  • Supports the immune system

Risks and Complications

  • Tube displacement or blockage
  • Aspiration pneumonia
  • Gastrointestinal intolerance (e.g., diarrhea, bloating)
  • Infection at the insertion site

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Parenteral Nutrition

Parenteral nutrition delivers nutrients directly (IV) into the bloodstream, completely avoiding the GI tract in the process. When the GI tract is incapable of functioning or requires total rest, this technique is employed.

Types of Parenteral Nutrition

Peripheral Parenteral Nutrition (PPN)

PPN involves delivering nutrient solutions through a peripheral vein, typically in the arm. It's suitable for short-term use due to the lower concentration of nutrients, which minimizes the risk of vein irritation. PPN is often used when patients need temporary nutritional support or when central venous access is not available.

Total Parenteral Nutrition (TPN)

TPN involves delivering highly concentrated nutrient solutions through a central vein, such as the subclavian or jugular vein. It's suitable for long-term nutritional support, providing complete nutrition when the GI tract is non-functional. TPN allows for precise control over nutrient composition but requires careful monitoring due to the risk of complications like infections and metabolic imbalances.


  • Provides complete nutritional support when the GI tract is unusable
  • Precise control over nutrient composition
  • Can be tailored to meet specific metabolic needs

Risks and Complications

  • Increased risk of infections (e.g., catheter-related bloodstream infections)
  • Metabolic complications (e.g., hyperglycemia, electrolyte imbalances)
  • Liver dysfunction with long-term use
  • Thrombosis and catheter-related complications

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Differences and similarities between Enteral and Parenteral Nutrition


  • Enteral uses the GI tract; parenteral bypasses it.
  • Enteral nutrients are administered through feeding tubes; parenteral via IV.
  • Enteral is Chosen for functional GI tract whreas,parenteral for non-functional GI tract.
  • Infection Risk is Lower in enteral when compared with parenteral.
  • Cost for Enteral is generally less than parenteral.


  • Both provide essential nutrients when oral intake is inadequate.
  • Both require regular monitoring for complications.
  • Both can be tailored to meet specific nutritional needs.

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What is enteral nutrition?

Enteral nutrition is the delivery of nutrients directly to the gastrointestinal (GI) tract through a tube, ensuring patients receive adequate nutrition when they cannot eat orally.

Who needs enteral nutrition?

Patients with conditions like dysphagia, neurological disorders, cancer affecting the oral cavity or esophagus, and those recovering from gastrointestinal surgery or obstruction may require enteral nutrition.

How is enteral nutrition administered?

It is administered through various types of feeding tubes, including nasogastric, nasointestinal, gastrostomy, and jejunostomy tubes.

What are the benefits of enteral nutrition?

Benefits include maintaining GI functionality, lower infection risk compared to parenteral nutrition, more physiological nutrient absorption, and support for the immune system.

What is parenteral nutrition?

Parenteral nutrition is the delivery of nutrients directly into the bloodstream via intravenous (IV) administration, bypassing the GI tract entirely.

How long can a patient be on parenteral nutrition?

Parenteral nutrition is usually intended for short-term use, but it can be used long-term with careful monitoring and management .