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Gastric Emptying Scan: About This Test

Location and cross-section of the stomach

What is it?

A gastric emptying scan is a test that shows how quickly food leaves your stomach.

This type of test is called a nuclear scanning test. A radioactive tracer is added to a solid meal that you eat. This tracer shows up on pictures taken by an external camera. That allows your doctor to see food in your stomach and to watch as it leaves the stomach.

Why is it done?

A gastric emptying scan is done to see if food moves through the stomach as it should and at the right speed. It can be used to see if a digestive problem like gastroparesis is causing the stomach to retain food.

How can you prepare for this test?

To prepare for this test:

  • Talk to your doctor about all your allergies, health problems, and medicines before the scan. He or she will tell you if you need to stop taking any medicines near the time of your scan.
  • Tell your doctor if you are or might be pregnant.
  • Follow your doctor's instructions about not eating for a few hours before the scan.
  • Don't smoke for about 24 hours before the test.

What happens during the test?

  • You will need to remove any jewellery near the site of the scan.
  • You may need to take off your clothes and wear a cloth or paper gown.
  • You will be given a quick meal, such as scrambled eggs. The food contains a small amount of the tracer. The scan will start as soon as you've eaten.
  • A large scanning camera will be placed just above your belly. When the scan starts, the camera will take a series of pictures of your stomach. The pictures will show the tracer moving through your stomach.
  • You may be asked to stand up, lie down, or do both for the needed camera shots.
  • The camera will take pictures at certain times over a few hours.
  • You will be able to get up and move around in the breaks between camera sessions.

How long does the test take?

The test may take about 3 to 4 hours.

How does the test feel?

The scan doesn't cause any pain. It doesn't feel any different from eating a normal meal.

What happens after the test?

  • After the camera is done taking pictures, you will probably be able to leave the testing area right away.
  • Drink lots of water and urinate often after your scan. This helps your body flush out the tracer. Most of the tracer will pass from your body through your urine or stool in a day. Be sure to flush the toilet right away and wash your hands well after each time you use the toilet.
  • You should learn the results from your test within a few days.

What are the risks?

There is always a slight risk of damage to cells or tissue from being exposed to any radiation, even the low level released by the tracer used for this test. But the chance of damage is usually very low compared with the benefits of the test.

The camera doesn't produce any radiation. That means you aren't exposed to any more radiation while the scan is being done.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. Ask your doctor when you can expect to have your test results.

Where can you learn more?

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