Complications related to percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy
J Gastrointestin Liver Dis
December 2007 Vol.16 No 4, 407-418
Address for correspondence:S.P.Stawicki, MD
OPUS 12 Foundation
304 Monroe Boulevard
King of Prussia, PA 10406, USA
Complications Related to Percutaneous Endoscopic
Gastrostomy (PEG) Tubes. A Comprehensive Clinical Review
Sherwin P. Schrag1, Rohit Sharma2, Nikhil P. Jaik3, Mark J. Seamon4, John J. Lukaszczyk3, Niels D. Martin5, Brian A.
Hoey5,6, S. Peter Stawicki7
1) Department of Surgery, Division of Trauma and Surgical Critical Care, Vanderbilt University Medical Center,
Nashville, TN. 2) Department of Surgery, Easton Hospital, Easton. 3) Department of Surgery, St Luke’s Hospital and
Health Network, Bethlehem. 4) Department of Surgery, Division of Trauma and Surgical Critical Care, Temple University
School of Medicine, Philadelphia. 5) Department of Surgery, Division of Traumatology and Surgical Critical Care,
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia. 6) Department of Surgery, St Luke’s Hospital and Health
Network, BethlehemSt. Luke’s Trauma Center, Bethlehem. 7) OPUS 12 Foundation, King of Prussia, PA, USA
Percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG) has
become the modality of choice for providing enteral access
to patients who require long-term enteral nutrition. Although
generally considered safe, PEG tube placement can be
associated with many potential complications. This review
describes a variety of PEG tube related complications as
well as strategies for complication avoidance. In addition,
the reader is presented with a brief discussion of procedures,
techniques, alternatives to PEG tubes, and related issues.
Special topics covered in this review include PEG tube
placement following previous surgery and PEG tube use in
Percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy – PEG –
complications - endoscopy - management
Percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG), the
modality of choice for long-term enteral access, was first
described in 1980 by Ponsky and Gauderer (1,2). Several
modifications of the original procedure have been described
(3-6). Although generally safe, PEG tube placement is
associated with many potential complications. To date, there
have been no comprehensive reviews of PEG tube related
complications. In an attempt to fill this void, we present a
review that describes the most commonly encountered PEG
complications as well as strategies for their avoidance.
A literature review was performed via the PubMedTM
search engine from 1976 to 2007, using the search terms
“PEG tube”, “PEG”, “complications”, “technique”, and
“morbidity”. Relevant cross-referenced non-PubMedTM
listed articles were also included. Three hundred thirty-two
articles were found including randomized controlled trials,
retrospective studies, case series, case reports, editorials,
letters and abstracts. These sources were evaluated for
relevance to current medical practices and goals of this
PEG: indications and contraindications
PEG tubes have two main indications – feeding access
and gut decompression (7). In patients who are unable to
maintain sufficient oral intake, PEG tubes provide long-term
enteral access. This commonly includes patients with
temporary/chronic neurological dysfunction, including
those with brain injuries, strokes, cerebral palsy,
neuromuscular and metabolic disorders, and impaired
swallowing. Significant head/neck trauma and upper
aerodigestive surgery that preclude oral nutrition also
constitute important indications. In patients with advanced
abdominal malignancies causing chronic obstruction/ileus,
a PEG tube can be used to decompress the intestinal tract.
PEG tubes may also be useful in the setting of severe bowel
motility disorders (8).
Absolute contraindications to PEG placement include
pharyngeal or esophageal obstruction, active coagulopathy
and any other general contraindication to endoscopy. Of
the three principal safety tenets of PEG placement,
endoscopic gastric distension, endoscopically visible focal
finger invagination, and transillumination, only the latter
has been successfully challenged. Stewart et al. placed 62
Schrag et al408
PEG tubes without transillumination and had a 97% success
rate, with no immediate complications, and two failures
unrelated to the technique used (9).
The presence of oropharyngeal or esophageal cancer is
a relative contraindication, due to the potential seeding of
the PEG tract with cancer cells (10). Here, either a
radiographically placed percutaneous gastrostomy or
surgical gastrostomy tube may be more appropriate. In the
face of esophageal cancer, PEG tubes are usually avoided
to preserve the gastric conduit for reconstruction after
Historically, gastroesophageal reflux was considered a
contraindication. It is now known that gastroesophageal
reflux may actually improve after PEG placement, as the PEG
itself creates an anterior pseudo-gastropexy (11).
Other relative contraindications include abdominal wall
abnormalities such as the presence of prior abdominal
surgery, especially procedures involving the stomach, spleen
or splenic flexure of the colon. While it is acceptable to
attempt PEG placement in the face of prior surgery, one
should have a low threshold to abort if the three safety
tenets are absent. The presence of abdominal wall
metastases, open abdominal wounds, or ventral hernia
defects all constitute relative contraindications. Intra-
abdominal contraindications include hepatomegaly,
splenomegaly, and moderate or severe ascites. Portal
hypertension with gastric varices also constitutes a
contraindication to PEG placement. Systemic contra-
indications include recent myocardial infarction,
hemodynamic instability, coagulopathy, and sepsis.
The knowledge and adherence to the proper techniques
of PEG placement is crucial to complication avoidance. The
most widely used PEG technique is the “pull” method (1-2).
There are several modifications of the original technique.
The gastrostomy tube can be pushed rather than pulled
into place by a “push” (Sacks-Vine) method (12). In the
“introducer” (Russell) method, the stomach is directly
punctured and a Foley catheter placed over a guidewire.
Percutaneous gastrostomy has also been described without
endoscopy, using a nasogastric tube for gastric insufflation,
fluoroscopy, and a direct percutaneous catheter insertion
The most commonly used method of placement is the
pull technique. After preparation of the abdomen,
administration of prophylactic antibiotic and sedation/
analgesia, a complete upper endoscopy is performed. The
stomach is insufflated, resulting in close apposition of the
stomach to the abdominal wall. A point is chosen in the mid-
epigastrium, where there is maximal transillumination and
indentation of the gastric lumen, with direct pressure of a
blunt pointer. A local anesthetic is then infiltrated into the
area around the puncture site and a small incision is made. A
large-bore needle is inserted into the gastric lumen under
endoscopic observation. A guidewire is threaded through
the needle, grasped with endoscopic snare, and the needle
withdrawn. The endoscope-snare-guidewire is withdrawn
from the mouth as a single unit. The tapered end of the
gastrostomy tube is then secured to the guidewire and pulled
back down into the stomach, followed by endoscopic
confirmation of the internal bumper placement, which should
be snug against the gastric wall. An external bumper is used
to secure the PEG tube in place and prevent distal
propagation of the internal bumper.
The “push” (Sacks-Vine) method and the “introducer”
(Russell) method are the alternative techniques of PEG tube
placement. Procedural details of these methods are beyond
the scope of this review (5, 12). The basic elements common
to all PEG techniques are: (a) gastric insufflation to bring
the stomach into apposition with the abdominal wall; (b)
percutaneous placement of a cannula into the stomach; (c)
passage of a suture or guidewire into the stomach; (d)
placement of the gastostomy tube; and (e) verification of
the proper position (1,2, 5,6, 12,13).
PEG in patients with previous abdominal surgery
Prior abdominal surgery was once considered a
contraindication to PEG placement. However, clinical studies
show that PEG tubes can be safely placed after abdominal
surgery (14). In one series, PEG placement was successful
in 36/37 patients with previous abdominal surgery (15). A
unique challenge to the endoscopist is the patient with prior
gastric surgery. In one report, PEG placement failed in 28%
of patients who had previous gastric resections, while it
was successful in 95% of the remaining patients with prior
abdominal surgery (14).
To increase the chance of successful PEG placement in
this patient group, adherence to well-established safety
steps as described above is essential. A safe tract should be
identified by aspirating air from the puncturing syringe and
by endoscopically visualizing the intragastric needle (14).
Abdominal wall transillumination may not be possible in
morbidly obese patients. Here, a larger abdominal incision
can be made and the subcutaneous fat dissected down to
the fascia. The procedure should then proceed as usual,
closing the skin incision at the end (16).
Overview of PEG tube related complications
In order to systematize this review, we categorized PEG
complications into specific groups, which can be divided as
follows: (a) complications of upper endoscopy; (b) direct
complications of the PEG procedure; and (c) post-procedural
complications associated with PEG tube use and wound
care. The subsequent sections of this review will discuss
complications grouped by the above criteria, describing
complication identification, treatment, and prevention.
Complications associated with endoscopy
The most common complications associated with upper
endoscopy include cardiopulmonary compromise, aspi-
Complications related to percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy 409
ration, hemorrhage, and perforation. Mortality attributable
to upper endoscopy is exceedingly low (0.005-0.01%)
(17,18). However, most of the mortality data involve
healthy ambulatory patients in experienced centers,
not the debilitated patient population in need of feeding
Cardiopulmonary complications related to sedation/
analgesia are the most frequent complications of diagnostic
endoscopy (18). These include myocardial infarction,
respiratory depression, and hypotension. Hypoxia is
relatively common, occurring in 7-40% of endoscopies (18).
The risks of intubation and anesthesia are beyond the scope
of this review. Proper resuscitative and reversal agents and
airway equipment should be present for all PEG procedures.
Upper endoscopy carries a significant risk of aspiration
(0.3% to 1.0%) (19). Risk factors for aspiration include elderly
age, chronic illness, depressed mental status, supine
positioning, and sedation. The endoscopist can minimize
this risk by avoiding over-sedation, optimizing gastric air
insufflation, thoroughly aspirating gastric contents before
and after the procedure, and performing the procedure
efficiently. Some report a significantly lower aspiration rates
utilizing an unsedated transnasal approach with a small
caliber endoscope during PEG placement (20).
Severe hemorrhage is a rare complication of upper
endoscopy (0.02% to 0.06% cases) (17-18). Risk factors
include anticoagulation, antiplatelet therapy, and the
presence of an anatomic anomaly. In a large prospective
study of ambulatory upper endoscopies, strict adherence
to the cessation of all antiplatelet agents 10-14 days before
endoscopy likely led to an absence of procedural bleeding
(21). Elective PEG tube placement should be avoided in
coagulopathic or thrombocytopenic patients.
The most feared complication of upper endoscopy is
esophageal perforation (incidence of 0.008-0.04%) (17-18).
Anatomic anomalies contribute to perforation in up to 50%
of cases. In patients with normal anatomy, the common
sites of iatrogenic perforation include the cricopharyngeous,
aortic knob, and the diaphragmatic hiatus where natural
anatomic narrowing of the esophagus occurs. Predisposing
factors include anterior cervical osteophytes, Zenker’s or
epiphrenic esophageal diverticuli, benign or malignant
esophageal strictures, and mass lesions. Patients typically
present with tachycardia, fever, dysphagia, odynophagia,
respiratory distress, or sepsis. Early (<24 hours) recognition
provides a substantial mortality benefit (mortality <10%)
when compared to late (>24 hours) recognition (mortality
up to 50%). Diagnosis of a perforation is based on
radiographic contrast study. Treatment consists of broad-
spectrum antibiotics, tube thoracostomy and wide surgical
drainage, debridement, and operative repair. In selected
patients without evidence of sepsis, with small, contained
perforations and prohibitive comorbidities, non-operative
management may be appropriate.
Complications related to endoscopy are rare but serious
and should be discussed with patients or patient
representatives prior to PEG placement.
Several surgical procedures have been described for the
placement of enteral access. Direct pharyngostomy or
esophagostomy is rarely utilized today, especially after the
advent of interventional radiologic techniques (22,23). Other
commonly performed procedures include open surgical
gastrostomy, jejunostomy, and needle jejunostomy.
Endoscopic jejunal access is possible but more difficult than
Percutaneous radiologic gastrostomy is indicated when
other methods of enteral access prove risky (23). The per-
cutaneous radiologic gastrectomy is associated with
procedu-ral success rates of 99.2%, major and minor
complication rate of 5.9% and 7.8%, respectively (24).
Interventionalists can also perform percutaneous
jejunostomy catheter placement. In summary, various
surgical, endoscopic, and radiologic procedures now make
enteral feeding possible in nearly all patients.
PEG procedure - related complications
Pneumoperitoneum, portal, and mesenteric venous gas
Benign pneumoperitoneum is common after PEG tube
insertion, with reported incidence of over 50% (25-27). It is
thought that air escapes through the small opening in the
stomach during the interval between the initial needle
puncture and the PEG tube passage through the abdominal
wall (26). Conservative management of patients with
pneumoperitoneum, who have undergone a recent PEG in
the absence of additional symptoms is suggested.
Pneumoperitoneum is usually self-limiting, and should be
clinically concerning only when intra-abdominal air is
worsening or when it is found in the presence of signs of
peritonitis, portal and/or mesenteric venous gas, systemic
inflammatory response and/or sepsis (27).
The displacement of the transverse colon over the
anterior gastric wall can predispose the patient to colonic
injury during PEG placement (28,29). To avoid this
complication, the introducing needle should not be inserted
into the stomach without adequate gastric insufflation,
appropriate transillumination, and endoscopically visible
focal invagination of gastric wall upon external palpation.
At times, the needle used to infiltrate local anesthetic into
the PEG site can be used as a ‘pilot’ needle to visually confirm
the closeness of the abdominal wall to the gastric lumen.
The stomach and small bowel should not be overdistended,
as overfilling the stomach and small bowel with air may ‘lift’
the transverse colon and increase the probability of colon
Colonic injuries usually present with peritonitis and
surgery is often required. Nonoperative management of
controlled colonic fistulae can be entertained if the patient
is hemodynamically stable, with no signs/symptoms of
abdominal sepsis (30). To avoid this complication and
facilitate PEG insertion, pre- and peri-procedural imaging
Schrag et al410
(ultrasound or CT), laparoscopy, and/or magnetic positional
imaging can be used (31-33).
Gastro-colo-cutaneous fistulae occur rarely after PEG
placement, and result from interposition of bowel, usually
the splenic flexure, between the anterior abdominal wall and
the gastric wall (1, 34,35). The PEG tube is placed directly
through the bowel into the stomach. Patients are often
asymptomatic, except for transient fever or ileus. The problem
is usually discovered months after the PEG placement when
the original PEG tube is removed or manipulated, or when
the replacement tube is placed into the colon. Once feeds
are restarted, diarrhea usually develops.
The diagnosis is made using contrast radiography via
the PEG tube. In most cases, there is no evidence of
intraperitoneal leakage or gastro-colic fistula. The
management of a symptomatic colo-cutaneous fistula
involves the removal of the PEG and allowing spontaneous
closure of the fistula (34). While the tube tract usually closes
upon tube removal, surgery may be needed if there is
evidence of peritonitis or abscess.
The prevention of this complication involves using both
good transillumination and finger pressure as a guide to
placement of the puncture site. Using a pilot needle, a
sudden gushing of stool or gas with the needle tip not
visualized endoscopically within the stomach suggests
interposition of another structure. Ultrasound or CT
guidance can be used selectively, but may have limited utility
in patients with abdominal wall thickness greater than 3 cm.
Some suggest using colonoscopy as an aid to PEG placement
to prevent this complication (36).
Small bowel injury
Injuries to the small bowel after PEG placement are rare
and can be difficult to diagnose. The small bowel is protected
from injury by the greater omentum that restricts the small
bowel from the upper abdomen. Unfortunately, this is not
always the case, especially if the patient has had prior
abdominal surgery. Postoperative adhesions can transfix
the small bowel in the upper abdomen, particularly if the
omentum has been resected. During PEG tube placement,
the small bowel can be injured causing intraabdominal
spillage acutely or presenting in a delayed fashion as an
entero-cutaneous fistula. These fistulae tend to become
clinically significant when the PEG tube is manipulated or
replaced and the new tube finds its way into the small bowel
(37). Radiographic confirmation of tube placement is
recommended after replacing the PEG tube.
Small bowel volvulus about the PEG tube has been
described, and usually presents with a small bowel
obstruction (38). It is caused by slack on the PEG tube with
a gap forming between the gastric wall and the abdominal
wall. The loosening of the external flange can also allow the
internal bumper to migrate through the pylorus and into the
small bowel, which can present as a proximal small bowel
Intussusception of the jejunum back into the duodenum
around a migrated internal bumper has been described (39).
Intentional or unintentional separation of the bumper from
the external component of the PEG tube can lead to small
bowel obstruction and can cause necrosis and bowel
perforation at the site of the obstruction (40).
Liver injury related to PEG placement is rare (41,42). Close
clinical observation is usually all that is needed, and failure
of such observation has been described with major liver
injury such as inflation of a feeding tube’s balloon within
the liver parenchyma (41).
Hepatic injury during PEG placement can be avoided by
using careful technique and the usual precautionary steps
described throughout this review. An additional method of
verification is the “safe tract” technique, where a syringe
attached to a needle is advanced slowly through the
abdominal wall with retraction of the barrel (14). A “safe
tract” is established by endoscopic visualization of the
needle in the gastric lumen and simultaneous return of air
into the syringe. Return of fluid or gas into the syringe
without intragastric needle visualization suggests entry into
bowel or a solid organ interposed between the abdominal
wall and stomach.
While there are no reported cases of actual injury to the
spleen during PEG tube placement, one case report describes
a fatal retroperitoneal hemorrhage associated with this
procedure (43). Upon post-mortem analysis, a iatrogenic
perforation and laceration of the splenic vein close to the
confluence of the portal vein were found. Dense adhesions
between the stomach and liver as a consequence of the
patient’s previous surgery may have predisposed to this
Splenic injury following upper endoscopy is rare, but
has been reported after procedures like ERCP. While only a
handful of reports exist, splenic hematoma, splenic
laceration, and splenic rupture following ERCP have been
described (44,45). A possible mechanism for this injury is
the avulsion of the splenic vessels secondary to bowing of
the endoscope in the stomach during attempts to pass
through the duodenum (45). In addition, one case report
describes splenic injury following transesophageal
Splenic injury should be suspected after any upper
endoscopic procedure if the patient develops sudden
abdominal pain and hypotension. Intravenous access
should be immediately obtained and resuscitation with
crystalloid solution started. In a hemodynamically stable
patient, a CT scan can be obtained to confirm the diagnosis.
The patient should be transferred to an intensive care unit
and monitored with serial hematocrit determinations.
Surgical consultation should be obtained in the event the
patient becomes hemodynamically unstable and requires
emergent exploration and splenectomy.
Complications related to percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy 411
Intraperitoneal and retroperitoneal bleeding
Intraperitoneal bleeding has been reported secondary
to a liver laceration during PEG placement (42). Presentation
included abdominal pain, hypotension, decreasing
hemoglobin, rigid abdomen and no evidence of intraluminal
blood. Computed tomography of the abdomen revealed
intraperitoneal fluid and a liver laceration with an associated
hematoma. The patient underwent operative repair of the
liver laceration, evacuation of the hemoperitoneum and
revision of the gastrostomy (42). In another case, introducer
needle-related trauma led to a fatal outcome (43). Post-PEG
intraperitoneal hemorrhage is a rare complication, presents
with unexplained post-procedure hypotension, and should
be promptly recognized and treated.
Abdominal wall bleeding
Abdominal wall bleeding following PEG placement
usually occurs soon after placement, is most often caused
by puncture of an abdominal wall vessel, and is frequently
manifested by hemorrhage around the PEG insertion site
(47). Bleeding from the PEG tract itself can be treated by
tightening the external bolster against the skin, thereby
tightening the internal bumper against the abdominal wall.
Such compression should be released within 48 hours to
prevent mucosal necrosis and development of a pressure
ulcer (48). Standard resuscitative and operative indications
should be followed when approaching cases of hemo-
dynamic instability due to significant abdominal wall
bleeding (i.e. rectus sheath hematoma) following PEG
Complications associated with PEG
use and wound care
Prevention of peristomal pain after PEG placement starts
with ensuring that proper technique is followed. The
procedure field should be sterile and free of contamination.
A single dose of prophylactic antibiotics has been shown
to reduce the risk of peristomal infection (49,50). Additionally,
a stab incision 1-2 mm larger than the feeding tube may
lower the infectious risk (51). If pain persists and an infection
is suspected, a CT scan of the abdomen can be obtained to
rule out an abscess. Plain abdominal roentgenography may
show large amount of subcutaneous air and point to a
significant infection. A CT scan may also show signs of the
rare but life-threatening complication of necrotizing
The PEG tube site should be kept clean and dry by
washing it with soap and water. Excessive tension of the
external bolster against the skin should be avoided to
prevent the complication of buried bumper syndrome. This
leads to the erosion of the internal bolster into the gastric
wall, which ultimately causes pain and the inability to infuse
feeds (Fig.1). Loosening the external bolster also facilitates
healing of any gastric mucosal ulceration that might have
developed around the internal bumper.
Fig.1 Schematic representation of the buried bumper. (A) Tissue
configuration immediately after PEG placement; (B) Tissue
configuration following the application of excessive tension on
the internal bumper. Such undue tension causes local gastric
necrosis around the bumper, followed by gradual migration of the
bumper from the gastric lumen into the gastric mucosa and wall,
and then into the abdominal wall. Finally, the gastric mucosa
regrows and ‘seals over’ the original PEG opening, resulting in
loss of the connection between the PEG tube and the gastric
lumen. Legend: (a) internal bumper; (b) gastric mucosa/wall; (c)
abdominal wall; (d) external bolster; (e) potential space between
the ‘sealed off’ stomach and the ‘buried’ internal bumper.
Abscess and wound infection
PEG insertion is associated with a wound infection in up
to 18% of patients who did not receive periprocedural
antibiotics (52). Antibiotic prophylaxis reduces the infection
rate to about 3% (49,50,53). Meta-analyses of randomized
trials clearly show the benefits of systemic antibiotic use to
reduce the incidence of parastomal infection (54,55).
Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)
has emerged as an important cause of PEG-site infection,
and a strategy of nasopharyngeal decontamination of
patients with MRSA (in addition to standard prophylactic
antibiotics) has been reported to significantly reduce the
incidence of wound infections (56).
Necrotizing fasciitis is a rare complication of PEG
placement (57,58). Patients with pre-existing diabetes, wound
infections, malnutrition, and impaired immunity are at
increased risk. Traction and pressure on the PEG tube can
also predispose to necrotizing fasciitis development.
One study demonstrated that patients who had their
PEG tube external bolster set directly against the abdominal
wall were more likely to develop wound infection, peristomal
drainage, and necrotizing fasciitis compared to patients
whose external PEG bolster was left 3 cm from the abdominal
wall (59). The microbiology of necrotizing fasciitis is complex.
Multiple aerobic and anaerobic microorganisms display
synergy and are responsible for the lethality of this disease
(60). Treatment requires wide surgical debridement, planned
operative reassessment, antibiotics, and extensive patient
Buried bumper syndrome
Buried bumper syndrome (BBS) is an uncommon but
serious complication of PEG, occurring in 1.5% to 1.9% of
Schrag et al
patients (61,62). The bumper becomes lodged anywhere
between the gastric wall and the skin along the PEG tract.
BBS occurs as a result of excessive tension between the
internal and external bumpers leading to gastric ulceration
at the bumper site (Fig.1). The syndrome usually becomes
apparent after 4 months of use, but time intervals as short
as two months or as long as 7 years have been reported
(63,64). Epithelialization with coverage of the internal
gastrostomy stoma with gastric mucosa can result in
complete closure of the orifice. Fatal cases of BBS have
been reported, underscoring the potential seriousness of
this complication (65).
The inability to infuse feeding solution through the tube,
leakage around the tube and abdominal pain are the most
common manifestations of BBS. Endoscopic evaluation may
reveal a small irregular crevice, but findings can be limited
to a raised mound and a central small round concave area of
gastric mucosa without ulceration or edema (62,66). Changes
in the physical characteristics of the bumper due to gastric
acid may facilitate gastric wall necrosis and bumper migration
A buried bumper should be removed even if the patient
is asymptomatic, because of the risks of tube impaction in
the abdominal wall and/or gastric perforation. Computed
tomography, ultrasonography, and endoscopic ultrasound
can facilitate the localization of the bumper, and can be helpful
when deciding whether a surgical or endoscopic approach
should be used to remove the PEG. A combination of surgical
and endoscopic approaches has been used, with surgical
PEG removal followed by endoscopic placement of a new
PEG tube (62). The buried bumper can be removed through
a local abdominal wall incision, but a more extensive
abdominal procedure may be required. The “needle-knife”
technique has been described in the management of BBS,
where the mucosa covering the internal bumper is incised
by an endoscopic needle-knife, and, after mobilization, the
tube is extended into the gastric lumen and then cut near
the tip before being endoscopically removed. The remaining
portion of the tube is removed externally (66).
Although the reported incidence of peristomal leakage
is 1-2% (68), this complication is probably much more
common, especially early after PEG placement. Persistent
drainage beyond the early feeding period can pose a
significant problem, and can be associated with patient
factors that hinder wound healing (diabetes, malnutrition,
immunodeficiency). Additional risk factors that may
contribute to peristomal leakage include infection, gastric
hypersecretion, excessive cleansing with hydrogen
peroxide, BBS, side torsion on the PEG tube, and lack of
external bolster to stabilize the tube (69).
Treatment should begin with optimizing nutritional and
medical status (including glycemic control). Barrier creams
and skin protectants containing zinc oxide can be applied.
The external bolster should be examined and any excessive
torsion relieved. Replacing the original PEG tube with a larger
one should be avoided as this may cause the tract to enlarge
and exacerbate the leakage (70). In addition, some authors
recommend instituting antisecretory therapy to reduce
gastric acid secretion (51).
If leakage persists, the PEG tube can be removed for
several days and the tract allowed to partially close. A new
PEG can then be placed through the same site (71). This
maneuver should only be attempted when sufficient time
has passed to ensure scarring of the stomach to the
abdominal wall (71). If all else fails, the PEG tube should be
removed and a new PEG tube placed at a different site.
PEG site herniation
The literature reports only one case of gastric herniation
through the PEG site (72). After several months of copious
gastric drainage around the PEG site and the development
of a deep ulcer, a CT scan demonstrated partial herniation of
the stomach through the PEG tract. Herniation at the PEG
site should be suspected whenever a reproducible mass is
evidenced on a Valsalva maneuver. There is also one
reported case of a ventral Richter’s hernia that occurred at
an old PEG site (73). When a hernia is suspected, a CT scan
will confirm the diagnosis. Treatment should follow standard
Gastrointestinal bleeding and ulceration
Gastrointestinal bleeding is an uncommon complication
of PEG placement with a reported incidence of about 2.5%
(70,74). Causes include esophagitis, gastric pressure ulcers,
concomitant peptic ulcer disease and rarely puncture of a
gastric wall vessel.
Esophagitis is the most common endoscopic finding in
patients with PEG associated gastrointestinal bleeding (75).
It is more common in older patients and most commonly
observed in the lower esophagus. It has been postulated
that patients who receive enteral feeding may experience a
‘bypass effect’ and subsequent lack of adequate esophageal
protection (75). H2-receptor blockers offer little to no
protection, but proton pump inhibitors may potentially
prevent and treat this complication (75).
Gastric pressure ulcers following PEG placement can be
located either anteriorly or posteriorly. Anterior ulcers are
usually caused by pressure necrosis of the gastric mucosa
by the internal bolster (70,74). Avoidance of excessive
traction on the PEG tube may reduce the risk of this
complication. Posterior ulcers are caused by mechanical
mucosal injury, by long protruding tips of balloon PEG tubes,
and by tall internal bolsters. Use of ballooned PEG with
short (<5 mm) protruding tips and low profile (<3 mm) internal
bolsters may reduce the incidence of this complication.
Antisecretory therapy with H2-receptor antagonists may
not completely prevent the development of these ulcers.
Removal and placement of the PEG in a different location, or
replacing the PEG with a low-profile internal bumper can
effectively treat this complication.
Peptic ulcer disease is seen in approximately 15% of
patients with PEG tubes (70). Duodenal ulcers, gastric
Complications related to percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy
erosions and gastritis are the usual manifestations. Peptic
ulcer disease responds to standard treatment modalities.
Bleeding after PEG placement is usually caused by
puncture of the gastroepiploic artery or its perforating
branches. In these cases, tightening the external bolster
against the abdominal wall, thereby tightening the internal
bumper against the bleeding vessel may be tried to stop the
bleeding. Compression should be released within 48 hours
to prevent mucosal necrosis and pressure ulcer (48). Care
must be taken to endoscopically visualize the gastric mucosa
under the internal bumper.
Gastric outlet obstruction
Gastric outlet obstruction is a rare complication of PEG
tubes, seen when part of the PEG tube gets lodged in the
pylorus or duodenum causing partial or complete
obstruction. In the pediatric population, the internal bolster
of the PEG tube has been reported to cause obstruction of
the gastric outlet when dislocated or retained (76). In adults,
gastric outlet obstruction is usually a complication of the
replacement Foley-type PEG tubes. The migration of the
Foley balloon into the pylorus, duodenum or proximal
jejunum can cause luminal obstruction (Fig.2) (70,77). The
patient usually presents with abdominal cramping and
Upper gastrointestinal study will confirm the diagnosis.
In the case of Foley PEG tubes, deflating the balloon and
pulling the tube back should provide symptomatic relief.
Fig,2 CT images of a Foley-type PEG tube that migrated into the mid-duodenum causing
gastric outlet obstruction and duodenal perforation. (A, B) The tube passing from stomach
into the proximal duodenum; (C, D) The balloon of the tube is inflated in the distal portion
of the second part of the duodenum, with associated small pockets of free air.
Treatment includes retrieval of the internal bolster via endo-
scopic techniques in the former. Gastric outlet obstruction
can be avoided by properly using external bolster to anchor
the PEG tube.
Ileus and gastroparesis
While tube feeds may be safely started as soon as three
hours after PEG placement (78), post-procedural
gastroparesis occasionally occurs. If a patient has history
of diabetes, a trial of metoclopramide may be indi-
cated. Alternatively, administration or erythromycin may
be useful in stimulating gastrointestinal motility. If nausea
and vomiting ensues, then the PEG tube should be
unclamped for decompression and feeds withheld for 24-48
If the patient develops persistent abdominal distension
and an absence of bowel sounds, a post-procedural ileus
should be suspected. This may be more likely to occur in
situations where significant pneumoperitoneum was present
(79). If accompanied by pain, a gastrografin study utilizing
plain films or CT should be performed to rule out perforated
Prolonged ileus develops in 1-2% of cases after PEG
placement (80). Here, supportive therapy is indicated, with
gastric decompression and intravenous fluids. Electrolytes
should be corrected and any medications that may
contribute to an ileus should be minimized. Tube feeds
should be held until the ileus resolves.
Schrag et al
Bowel and gastric volvulus associated with PEG
Bowel volvulus around PEG tubes is rare. It is seen
mainly in the pediatric population. Gastric, transverse colon,
and small bowel volvulus around gastrostomy tubes have
been described (81-84). The PEG-related gastric volvulus is
usually of the organo-axial type, with gastrostomy as the
fixed point (81). In one case, the PEG was introduced through
the posterior wall of the stomach, leading to rotation of the
stomach and volvulus (84). Treatment is surgical, including
detorsion, repositioning of the gastrostomy with or without
gastropexy. Careful placement of the PEG tube on the
anterior wall of the stomach may prevent this complication
PEG tube dislodgement
Inadvertent PEG tube removal occurs in 1.6% to 4.4% of
patients (80,85). Combative or confused patients are more
prone to this complication. While the PEG tract begins to
mature approximately 7-10 days after PEG placement, in
malnourished or immunosuppressed patients, this process
can take up to one month. Partial PEG dislodgement presents
a unique clinical challenge (Fig.3).
In the event that a PEG tube is dislodged less than one
month after placement, repeat endoscopy should be per-
formed to replace the tube. The stomach may have separated
from the anterior abdominal wall, resulting in free perforation.
Blindly reinserting a new PEG tube in this scenario may lead
to its placement inside the peritoneal cavity. When
recognized early, the replacement PEG tube can be placed
Fig.3 An example of partial PEG tube dislodgement with free contrast extravasation as seen
on CT. (A) PEG tube is seen traversing the skin and subcutaneous tissues, with free fluid in
the peritoneal cavity; (B) PEG tube bumper is seen adjacent to the gastric wall, with some
contrast seen intraluminally; (C, D) Extraluminal contrast extravasation is present.
either near or even through the same PEG tube site (86). If
recognition is delayed, the patient should be made NPO
(nothing per oral), a nasogastric tube should be placed, and
broad-spectrum antibiotics started. Surgical exploration is
indicated if signs of peritonitis/sepsis are present. Otherwise,
a new PEG should be placed in 7-10 days (Fig.4) (51). If a
clinician feels that a tube has been dislodged through a
mature tract during this period, then a water-soluble contrast
Fig.4 Laparoscopic appearance of an old PEG
tube site (right) adjacent to a newly placed PEG
tube (left). In this case, PEG tube dislodgement
occurred within 7 days of tube placement,
necessitating complete removal of the old tube
and placement of a new PEG tube 8 days later.
Note the lack of PEG tube tract formation
between the stomach and the peritoneal surface,
which is typical of a newly placed PEG tube.
Complications related to percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy
study should be obtained after replacing the PEG to confirm
its location. This should occur before feeding is restarted.
When a PEG tube becomes dislodged more than one
month after placement, one can assume that a mature PEG
tract is present. A replacement tube can be placed without
endoscopy. To prevent repeat dislodgements, the use of an
abdominal binder, ensuring the tube is not longer than 18
cm, or using a low-profile “button” may be beneficial. If any
doubt exists as to the location of the new PEG tube, a water-
soluble contrast study should be done prior to refeeding.
Clogged PEG tube
A clogged PEG tube occurs in up to 45% of patients
(87). With thick enteral feeds and medications being delivered
through a relatively narrow caliber tube, prevention is the
key to avoiding this problem. Administration of bulking
agents such as psyllium and resins such as cholestyramine
through the tube should be avoided. Tubes should optimally
be flushed with 30-60 mL of water using a large syringe
every 4 hours. Saline should be avoided since it can
crystallize within the tubing and promote gradual clogging.
Flushing should occur after checking residuals and
administering medication. All medications should be
completely dissolved in water prior to being flushed. Liquid
forms of medications should be preferentially utilized over
solid-based formulation. Consultation with both nutritionists
and pharmacists can be useful.
The best initial irrigant to unclog PEG tubes is water. In
one study, warm water was shown to be superior to other
unclogging liquids (88). Others found that carbonated
beverages were effective in dissolving clogs (89). Another
effective method involves the use of pancreatic enzymes,
which can be mixed with bicarbonate solution and allowed
to sit within the tubing for up to several hours before an
attempt to flush with water (90). Finally, the PEG tube can be
manually cleared with special ‘declogging’ plastic brush
devices. The use of wires should be avoided due to a small
risk of perforation.
Post PEG placement diarrhea
Diarrhea is a common complication of enteral nutrition,
occurring in 10-20% of patients (91). Causes include
infection, dietary factors, protein malnutrition, and drug
therapy (91). The physician should review potential sources
of contamination and treat infection as identified by
Dietary factors include hyperosmolar solutions, lactase
deficiency, and fat malabsorption. Dilute solutions, lactose-
free and low-fat formulas may be tried to reduce diarrhea.
Protein malnutrition can be treated by administering isotonic
solutions and supplemental nutrition. Medication-related
causes of diarrhea include use of antibiotics, hyperosmolar
drug solutions, magnesium antacids and other medications
with direct effect on gastrointestinal function. Management
includes evaluating the need for antibiotics, dilute
hyperosmolar solutions, mixing medications with feeds,
using magnesium-free antacids and/or using the parenteral
route for some medications (91). Correcting dietary factors
will resolve diarrhea in nearly 50% of patients and anti-
diarrheals may be effective for medication-related diarrhea
(91). When all of the above causes are excluded, unusual
causes such as colo-cutaneous and jejuno-cutaneous
fistulae may be entertained (92,93). Diagnosis is made either
by a contrast tube study or contrast CT.
Tumor implantation at PEG site
This complication of PEG placement is seen mainly with
oropharyngeal tumors, with an incidence of <1% in this
group (94). Direct inoculation of tumor cells secondary to
instrumentation is the most likely mechanism of tumor spread
(94). Metastasis can also occur due to selective implantation
of circulating tumor cells in the PEG wound. Skin metastasis
is associated with extremely poor prognosis (average
survival of 7 months, and 0% 1 yr survival) (94). In order to
reduce this complication, it is reasonable to either perform
PEG after surgical removal of primary cancer or to place the
PEG using the Russell technique (70,94).
The risk of aspiration related to PEG placement is low
(0.3%-1.0%) (80,95). Risk factors for aspiration include
supine position, sedation, neurological impairment, and
advanced age (96). Since many patients undergo PEG
placement because of the neurologic sequelae of a stroke or
traumatic brain injury, this population is at an inherently
high risk of aspiration (97). While a few patients aspirate
during PEG placement, the great majority of aspiration events
occur at a later time, unrelated to the PEG procedure (98). To
prevent aspiration, the clinician should avoid excessive
sedation, optimize gastric air insufflation, thoroughly aspirate
gastric contents before/after the procedure, and perform
the procedure efficiently (96).
PEG tubes and pregnancy
PEG tubes have been successfully used in the setting of
pregnancy (99). A major difficulty encountered in this
population is pregnancy-associated emesis (99,100). If
severe emesis persists and interferes with nutritional
maintenance, conversion of a PEG tube to a PEG-jejunostomy
catheter may be needed (99,100).
Percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy has become the
modality of choice for providing enteral access to patients
who need long-term enteral nutrition. Despite its good safety
record, PEG can be associated with significant compli-
cations. Awareness of these complications and the use of
preventive strategies can allow the endoscopist to maximize
outcomes and to identify complications early. As with any
invasive procedure, a thorough knowledge of indications,
contraindications, and fundamental procedural steps
constitutes the most important safety factor.
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