Gastric Emptying Study at Valley Radiology

Find out how a gastric emptying study can help doctors diagnose stomach conditions and provide valuable information about your overall digestive health.

Continue reading to learn more about how a gastric emptying test works at Valley Radiology.

What Is a Gastric Emptying Study?

A gastric emptying study, or gastroesophageal reflex study, is a nuclear medicine test that tells your doctor how well your stomach muscles are working. 

Nuclear medicine means doctors use a small amount of radioactive material during an imaging scan or study. Nuclear medicine procedures, like the gastric emptying scan, are very safe. At Valley Radiology, your safety is our top priority. We use the minimum amount of radiation possible while ensuring maximum accuracy in all our imaging services.

During a gastric emptying study, radiology specialists measure the time it takes for food to empty from your stomach. 

After meals, food typically moves out of the stomach and into the small intestine in about one to two hours. If this process takes longer, you may have a condition called gastroparesis. 

Gastroparesis means the muscle movement inside your stomach is too slow. This means food is staying in your stomach too long.

Food that stays in your stomach too long can harden into a solid mass called a bezoar. A bezoar can be dangerous because it may block food from passing into your small intestine.

A gastric emptying test can help you get the treatment you need before digestive problems like nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain become an issue.

Why Is a Gastric Emptying Test Performed?

A gastric emptying study helps doctors see if food moves through your stomach at the right speed. 

When your stomach empties too quickly, your small intestine gets large amounts of undigested food. This often leads to increased blood sugar and symptoms of

  • Nausea
  • Bloating
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhea

When your stomach empties too slowly, you have a higher risk of food hardening into solid masses, which can lead to

  • Blockage
  • Ulcers
  • Bleeding in the stomach

A gastric emptying study can help your doctor 

  • See if you have acid reflux (a disease in which acid or bile irritates the food pipe lining)
  • Detect aspiration (a condition in which food, liquids, saliva, or vomit is breathed into your airway)
  • Evaluate why you are experiencing nausea or vomiting
  • Evaluate why a child is not gaining weight
  • See why a child is having frequent abdominal pain

How Long Does a Gastric Emptying Study Take?

A gastric emptying nuclear scan takes between two and four hours. Here is a general schedule of what to expect

  • First 25 minutes
    Eat a meal of scrambled eggs, egg whites, white toast, strawberry jelly, and water. This is the standard meal for all gastric emptying study patients. The eggs are cooked with a radioactive tracer, so no injection is needed.
  • Five minutes
    Take pictures of your stomach.
  • One hour
    Take pictures of your stomach.
  • Two hours
    Take pictures of your stomach.
  • Four hours (if needed)
    Take pictures of your stomach.

A typical stomach empties in about two hours. If your stomach completely empties in that time, your scan will be complete. But if it takes longer, your doctor will continue the imaging study for up to four hours.

You may leave the Valley Radiology facility between scans but cannot eat or exercise until the last set of pictures has been taken.

Preparing for Gastric Emptying Study: Tips

Here are a few ways to prepare for a gastric emptying test

  • You will need to fast for six hours before the scan.
  • If you smoke, do not smoke on the day of your study.
  • If you are a woman and still menstruating, we recommend having your scan done in the first ten days of your cycle.
  • You will need to stop taking these medications and drugs at least two days before your scan
    • Any medication or drug that slows down digestion
    • Any medication or drug that speeds up digestion
    • Certain pain medications
    • Laxatives
    • Marijuana
  • If you are unsure whether to take a specific medication before your gastric emptying study, please consult your doctor at least two days before your appointment. 

If you have diabetes, please consult your doctor to find out if you need to change any medications or dosage before your test. Also, please bring your insulin or other diabetes medicine with you on your test day. You may need to take it with your gastric emptying meal.

If pregnant or breastfeeding, please check with your physician before scheduling your nuclear gastric emptying study. Also, let us know if you have any metal in your body (e.g., fillings, spinal fusion rods, hip replacements, tattoos, permanent makeup, etc.).

Understanding the Gastric Emptying Study: Normal vs. Abnormal

Here are average gastric emptying study results

  • First 30 minutes
    70% or more of the meal is in your stomach
  • One hour
    30-90% of the meal is in your stomach
  • Two hours
    60% or less of the meal is in your stomach
  • Four hours
    10% or less of the meal is in your stomach

If your results are different (abnormal), food is moving too fast or too slow out of your stomach. Your doctor can use the results of this study to find out what’s causing your symptoms and determine the best treatment for your needs.

Premier Nuclear Medicine Imaging in Fayetteville and Angier, NC

Our dedicated team provides leading-edge nuclear medicine scans and imaging solutions, including the gastric emptying study to diagnose gastroparesis or other conditions.

If it has been recommended that you have a gastric emptying test procedure, please get in touch with us to learn how to schedule an appointment today.

Please note a doctor’s referral is required for all gastric emptying scans and all other services except mammograms.