A gastric emptying study, or gastric emptying scan, is a test that measures how much time it takes food to pass from your child’s stomach into their small intestine. Healthcare providers most often use gastric emptying studies to diagnose gastroparesis, a condition that occurs when your child’s stomach takes longer than normal to empty.
A gastric emptying study is a test that measures how long it takes food to empty from your child’s stomach into their small intestine. Healthcare providers use a special scanner called a gamma camera to take images of your child’s stomach after they eat. Other names for a gastric emptying study include:
A gastric emptying study is the most practical procedure to see how well your child’s stomach is working. Healthcare providers most often use gastric emptying studies to diagnose gastroparesis. Gastroparesis is a condition that occurs when your child’s stomach takes longer than normal to empty. It normally takes one-and-a-half to two hours for food to travel from your child’s stomach to their small intestine.
A gastric emptying test can also diagnose dumping syndrome, which is a condition that occurs when your child’s stomach empties contents into their small intestine too quickly. The study can also detect gastroesophageal reflux.
Providers may use the study to find out why your child is:
Your child’s provider may also use a gastric emptying study to help your child get treatment for gastroparesis before it causes serious complications.
Gastric emptying study prep includes restricting all food and drink after midnight the night before the test. Your child’s stomach needs to be empty before the test. In addition, your child’s provider will let you know if they need to stop taking any medications before the test.
You may want to explain the procedure to your child. Also, plan to bring books, toys or other activities to keep your child occupied between the scans.
The gastric emptying test procedure includes the following steps:
A solid meal gastric emptying study usually takes between four to five hours.
If your child is an outpatient and has no other tests or appointments scheduled, you and your child can go home. There are no restrictions to activities or food and drink after the exam.
You shouldn’t have a gastric emptying test if you’re pregnant or think you might be pregnant. Radiation from this test can be harmful to a fetus. If you’re not pregnant, there’s little risk in having the test. The amount of radiation given off during the test is very low, and providers don’t consider it harmful for most people.
A radiologist will interpret the images, write a report and deliver the results to your child’s healthcare provider within a few days.
After you eat, it usually takes one-and-a-half to two hours for food to move out of your stomach and into your small intestine. Normal results for a gastric emptying study will show your stomach passed food through within this time frame.
Your child’s provider will reach out to you to discuss the next steps.
Gastric emptying scans specifically show how long it takes food to pass from your stomach to your small intestine. While delayed gastric emptying (gastroparesis) can be a sign of cancer, healthcare providers use other imaging tests to detect cancer. Importantly, this is an exceedingly uncommon cause of delayed gastric emptying in a child.
It’s important that your child feels at ease during this test. There are certain things you can do to help your child prepare and feel comfortable.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
A gastric emptying study isn’t painful, but it can make for a long day for a child. If your child needs to have a gastric emptying test, you may want to explain the procedure and help your child prepare. They won’t be able to eat anything other than the small meal of eggs and toast until after the last scans. Bring activities to keep your child occupied between scans. And don’t forget to bring something to keep your mind at ease, too. Your child’s provider will report back with the results as soon as possible.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/23/2023.
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