Parenteral nutrition refers to the delivery of calories and nutrients into a vein (aka, intravenous or IV). There are many types of parenteral nutrition which may include carbohydrate calories delivered as simple sugar in an IV solution or several different types of nutrients including carbohydrates, protein, fat, electrolytes (for example, sodium and potassium), vitamins and trace elements (for example, copper and zinc). Enteral nutrition generally refers to any method of feeding that uses the gastrointestinal (GI) tract to deliver part or all of a persons caloric requirements. It can include a normal oral diet, the use of liquid supplements or delivery of part or all of the daily requirements using a feeding tube.
There are many reasons for enteral and parenteral nutrition including GI disorders such as bowel obstruction, short bowel syndrome, Crohns disease and ulcerative colitis as well as for certain cancers or in comatose patients. While enteral nutrition is always preferred when technically possible, some people may have a variety of medical issues that make the safe use of the GI tract difficult. Alternatively, their calorie and nutrient needs may not be met by the current level of functioning of their GI tract. That is when parenteral nutrition using an IV route may be needed to help an individual remain hydrated and provide calories and other nutrients to allow for growth and development or maintenance of physical well-being and function.
The amount, type and route of nutrition are tailored specifically to each patient with the goal being to improve patient outcomes, minimize infections and allow patients to live their lives as normally as possible.
There are many individuals who continue to work and have very full and productive lives while receiving parenteral nutrition. The main determinant will be the degree of disease that caused the underlying GI problem, as well as the ongoing symptoms. Each person needs to be assessed individually as to their wishes and overall medical condition to determine if they are well enough to work.