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Gastric Emptying Scan

What is a gastric emptying scan?

A gastric emptying scan is used to see how quickly food leaves the stomach and enters the small intestine. If the test shows that it takes longer than the usual time for the stomach to empty it may explain why an infant or child is spitting up, gagging or refusing to eat. A gastric emptying scan can also show gastroesophageal reflux and possible aspiration of that reflux.

How to prepare your child for the gastric emptying scan:

If your child takes medications, ask the doctor who ordered the test if the medications should be given on the usual schedule or stopped. The preparation of the scan depends on the age of the child.

Ages newborn to 10 years old:

  • No formula or breast milk or food four hours prior to procedure
  • You can help your baby feel more secure during the test by bringing a special blanket, toy or pacifier.
  • Bring an extra bottle of juice, formula or breast milk to give your baby after the test

Children over 10 years old:

  • Nothing to eat or drink past midnight
  • Bring a favorite book, toy or blanket. A TV with a VCR is available, so you may also bring a favorite video. School-age children may enjoy playing a game.
  • Bring a snack to give your child after the test.
Other tips to help toddlers and pre-school age children
  • Young children only remember things for a short time, so the best time to talk about the test is right before you are ready to come to the hospital.
  • Be honest with your child and use simple words. Tell him/her the doctor needs to take some pictures and that this will not hurt. Tell your child the doctor wants to help him/her feel better.
  • Children at this age are afraid of being separated from their parents. Let your child know that you will stay with him/her as much as possible.
Other tips to help school-age children
  • School-age children have good imaginations. They may imagine something much worse than the actual test if you don’t tell them the truth.
  • Use simple words and be honest. Tell your child that he/she is going to the hospital to have some pictures taken of the inside of his/her body, but this will not hurt. Tell him/her the pictures will help the doctor decide how to help him/her feel better.

Bring breakfast foods for your child to the procedure:

  • Infant- formula or breast milk, also rice cereal for the older infant
  • Toddler and older child- milk or juice and solid foods like oatmeal, grits, yogurt, pudding, or scrambled eggs

A radioactive tracer will be added to the breakfast food you bring for your child. The tracer has no taste and has no side effects. The tracer allows the doctor to see the passage of food as it leaves the stomach.

If your child refuses to eat, there is an option to place a feeding tube through his/her nose and into the stomach. This tube will be used to give your child the liquid with the tracer so the test can continue.

If your child has a gastrostomy tube, it will be used if he/she is not taking anything by mouth or refuses food by mouth. Please bring the connecting tube you use for feedings to the procedure.

How is the test done?

Immediately after your child has eaten, he/she will be placed on his/her back on the exam table and pictures will be taken for about 30 minutes. The camera that takes the pictures does not emit any x-rays or radiation. There are no side affects from this exam. It is important that the procedure begins when the stomach is the fullest. There is no shot (no needle) involved in this test.

How long will it take?

  • After the 30 minutes of taking pictures, you will be able to leave the nuclear medicine area with your child for approximately 1 hour.
  • You must return within 1 hour for another picture of the stomach. It is important that your child does not eat during this time.
  • The follow-up picture takes about one minute to complete.
  • If the picture shows that the stomach is empty, the procedure is done and your child will be allowed to return home.
  • If the picture shows that the stomach is not empty, you will return with your child in one hour for a repeat picture. At this point, even if food remains in the stomach the procedure is considered completed and your child will be able to go home and eat as usual.
  • The entire test will take approximately 3 hours to complete from the start of the test until the last picture is taken.

Note: If your child had other tests with contrast the day before the gastric emptying scan is scheduled, the doctor may need to order an x-ray to check if the contrast has been cleared from the bowels. If the bowels are clear, the gastric emptying scan can be done.

Who looks at the images taken?

The radiologist is a doctor that will view all the pictures and then send a report to your child’s doctor.

What happens after the test?

The nuclear medicine technologist will give you instructions and tell you when you may leave.

Who will give me the results?

The doctor that asked for the test will call you within a few days. Please call your doctor’s office if you have not heard anything after a few days.

The nuclear medicine technologist will call the day before the scheduled gastric emptying scan to remind you of the procedure. If you have questions concerning the procedure call: 668-7877.


Disclaimer: This information is not intended to substitute or replace the professional medical advice you receive from your child's physician. The content provided on this page is for informational purposes only, and was not designed to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Please consult your child's physician with any questions or concerns you may have regarding a medical condition.

Reviewed: 02/07