A gastric emptying scan is an imaging test to measure how quickly food travels from the stomach into the small bowel (intestine). During the test, you are given a meal to eat that contains a small amount of radioactive substance (tracer). Then, scans of the stomach are done. The tracer shows up clearly on the scan and tracts the movement of the food through your stomach. This test is most often needed if you have symptoms that suggest a motility problem. Motility refers to the movement of muscles in the digestive tract. The test takes about 5 hours and is performed at the hospital.
During the test
You will be given a meal to eat. This can be solid food, such as eggs, or a liquid, such as water. Both the food and drink contain a small amount of tracer. The tracer has no flavor. If you’re allergic to the food to be given, another type of food will be given.
After you finish your meal, you will be asked to lie on your back on the exam table.
Pictures of your stomach are then taken with a machine called a scanner. You must lie still during the entire process. The scanner uses technology that can detect the amount of tracer in the stomach. As food is empties from the stomach, the amount of tracer decreases. This allows the technologist to measure the rate at which food is leaving the stomach.
More pictures of your stomach are then at different times. This usually occurs after 1, 2, 3 and 4 hours after eating the meal. You can leave the room between the times the pictures are taken. But do not eat or drink anything or preform any strenuous activities during this period.
Once the last set of pictures is taken, the test is complete.
After the test
You can go home shortly after the test. Your doctor will review the test results with you, likely within a few days of the test.
Possible risks and complications
There is a small amount of radiation exposure from the tracer. This amount is not considered to be dangerous. But it can carry certain risks if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Be sure to speak with your doctor about these risks prior to the procedure.