Gastric Emptying Study

  • Medical Author:
    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

  • Medical Editor: Bhupinder Anand, MD
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How are the results of a gastric emptying study evaluated?

In patients with gastroparesis, the food and the attached radioactive material remain in the stomach longer than normal (usually hours) before emptying into the small intestine. As a result, the scanner continues to show radioactivity in the area of the stomach for hours after the test meal. If abnormally slow emptying is demonstrated, medications such as metoclopramide (Reglan) may be given to speed up the emptying and improve symptoms. If abnormally rapid emptying of the stomach is found, medications may be given to slow down emptying.

Are there any side effects of a gastric emptying study?

There are no side effects from a gastric emptying study. The radioactive material is not absorbed into the body and is eliminated in the stool. Nevertheless, gastric emptying studies as well as any other studies that utilize radioactive materials should not be performed in pregnant women because the fetus is exposed to some radioactivity.

Are there other tests that can be performed instead of a gastric emptying study?

An upper gastrointestinal (GI) series X-ray demonstrates abnormal emptying of barium in patients with severe a emptying problem, however, it cannot diagnose abnormal emptying of a mild or moderate degree. An antro-duodenal motility study or an electrogastrogram can demonstrate abnormalities in the muscles and nerves of the stomach, but they do not directly evaluate the effects of these abnormalities on emptying of the stomach. Other experimental methods for evaluating emptying of the stomach have been described, for example, ultrasonography, breath tests using fatty acids, and single photon emission computerized tomography (SPECT) but these tests are available in very few centers.

Medically reviewed by John A. Daller, MD; American Board of Surgery with subspecialty certification in surgical critical care


"Gastroparesis: Etiology, clinical manifestations, and diagnosis"

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/9/2015

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