Determination of a practical pH cutoff level for reliable confirmation of nasogastric tube placement.
Enteral feeding is a common method of nutrition support when oral intake is inadequate. Confirmation of correct nasogastric (NG) tube placement is essential. Risks of morbidity/mortality associated with misplacement in the lung are well documented. Studies indicate that pH ≤ 4 confirms gastric aspirate, but in pediatrics, a pH of gastric aspirate is often >4. The goal of this study was to determine a reliable and practical pH value to confirm NG tube placement, without increasing the risk of not identifying a misplaced NG tube. Pediatric inpatients older than 4 weeks receiving enteral nutrition (nasogastric or gastrostomy) were recruited over 9 months. Aspirate samples were pH tested at NG tube placement and before feedings. If pH >4, NG tube position was confirmed by chest radiograph or further investigations. In addition, intensive care unit (ICU) patients who required endotracheal suctioning were recruited, and endotracheal aspirate samples were pH tested. A total of 4,330 gastric aspirate samples (96% nasogastric) were collected from 645 patients with a median (interquartile range [IQR]) age of 1.0 years (0.3-5.2 years). The mean (standard deviation [SD]) pH of these gastric samples was 3.6 (1.4) (range, 0-9). pH was >4 in 1,339 (30.9%) gastric aspirate samples, and of these, 244 were radiographed, which identified 10 misplaced tubes (1 with pH 5.5). A total of 65 endotracheal aspirate samples were collected from 19 ICU patients with a median (IQR) age of 0.6 years (0.4-5.2 years). The mean (SD) pH of these samples was 8.4 (0.8) (range, 6-9.5). Given that the lowest pH value of endotracheal aspirate sample was 6, and a misplaced NG tube was identified with pH 5.5, it is proposed that a gastric aspirate pH ≤ 5 is a safer, reliable, and practical cutoff in this population.