Overview: The Basics
Gastric emptying (GE) scans are medical studies used for individuals who are having issues with the speed at which food empties from the stomach and enters the small intestine.
The symptoms of slow emptying are primarily nausea, vomiting, and abdominal fullness after eating. The symptoms of rapid emptying are diarrhea, weakness, or light-headedness after eating.
What to Expect: During the Screening
Prior to GE scan, the patient is required to eat a meal that typically consists of scrambled eggs that contain a very small amount of radioactive material. The amount of radioactive material that is ingested is so small that it does not produce side effects.
You will then be led to a room where you will be positioned in front of a scanner that looks like a large camera. Over the course of 3 to 5 hours, 4 to 6 scans lasting about a minute each will be taken. The images taken will be at the rate in which food is digested. In most cases, you may return to the waiting room between images. It is important to remain still during the scan.
What can be found?
A GE study is commonly used when there is a suspicion that there is an abnormally delayed emptying of food from the stomach, medically called delayed gastric emptying. The two most common causes of delayed gastric emptying are gastric outlet obstruction and gastroparesis.
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.
What happens afterwards?
Nothing is required after the test is over. The patient may return to normal medications, activity, and eating as instructed by his/her physician. Test results may take a couple of days to analyze.
If the test shows that the food is leaving the stomach slowly, medications that may be given to speed up the emptying and improve symptoms. Conversely, if rapid emptying of the stomach is found, medications may be given to slow down emptying.
How to Prepare
Other than the meal that is eaten prior to the test, you should not eat or drink anything for six hours.