Gastric Emptying Scan

What is it?

A Gastric Emptying Scan is a test to determine how fast the stomach empties food into the small intestine after eating.

Nuclear Medicine scans are performed using very small amounts of radioactive material. The radioactive material is usually bound to other non-radioactive elements. These combined elements are called "radionuclide". The radionuclide emit energy called "photons". Radionuclide can be directed to many organs and systems in the body. Once a radionuclide is distributed in an organ or system, the photon energy is collected by a "Gamma Camera". The Gamma Camera detects the pattern of distribution of the radionuclide in the body and sends this information to a computer. The computer processes the information and displays the information in the form of a picture.

Nuclear Medicine exams differ from other x-ray procedures because the energy (x-rays and photons) come from different sources. X-ray energy is created by the x-ray tube and pass through the body. Another major difference is that Nuclear Medicine exams best demonstrate body physiology (system function), whereas x-rays show anatomical detail.

What will happen to me?

You will be asked to eat a radionuclide egg sandwich and drink some juice. Next, the Nuclear Medicine Technologist will assist you to lie on a flat table and will position you under the Gamma Camera. The Gamma Camera will be very close to you to obtain the best picture. The Gamma Camera will begin to take a series of pictures over time to record the emptying progression as the food leaves the stomach.

How long will the procedure take?

It will take 10 - 15 minutes to prepare for your exam after you arrive. It will then take about three (3) hours to complete the exam. It may take longer or shorter depending on how quickly the food leaves your stomach.

What will I feel, will it hurt?

You will not feel any effects from swallowing the radionuclide. You will need to lay very still while the scan is being performed so that the best picture can be made. You will not feel any effects from the Gamma Camera. It does not create radiation, it only detects the radiation coming from the radionuclide. The Gamma Camera is a large machine that collects the emitted photons from the radionuclide but produces very little sound. The Gamma Camera must be very close to you to obtain the pictures. The radiation will totally disappear from your body in about 48 hours. The radiation exposure you receive from this exam is no more than from a routine x-ray procedure. You may become tired of lying still in one position for a long period of time.

What will the test show?

A gastric emptying scan is a test to determine how fast the stomach empties food into the small bowel. The exam can detect the period of time for food to move through the upper digestive tract. The speed in which this occurs and the quantity of food movement can identify any upper gastric motility problems.

How do I get ready?

You should not eat or drink anything for six (6) hours before your exam. You should empty your bladder before beginning this exam so that you will be as comfortable as possible during the procedure. There are no other preparations necessary for you to do before this test.

Reviewed: May 2005