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Gastric Emptying Study

  • A gastric emptying study is a nuclear medicine test that measures the time it takes the stomach to empty. It is often referred to as a gastroesophageal reflux study.

    How Boston Children's Hospital approaches gastric emptying studies

    The Division of Nuclear Medicine at Children's is committed to providing a safe, comfortable, and child-friendly atmosphere with:

    • specialized nuclear medicine physicians with expertise in interpreting gastric emptying studies in children of all ages
    • certified nuclear medicine technologists with years of experience imaging children and teens
    • Child Life specialists to help families prior to and during exams
    • equipment adapted for pediatric use, which means age-appropriate care for children
    • protocols that keep radiation exposure as low as reasonably achievablewhile assuring high image quality.
  • What is a gastric emptying study?

    • A gastric emptying study is a diagnostic imaging exam that measures the time it takes for food to empty from the stomach and enter the small intestine.

    • Technetium-99m Sulfur Colloid is a tasteless radiopharmaceutical that is added to food for older children or formula/milk for babies.

    • A special camera, called a gamma camera, is used to take pictures of the stomach after your child consumes the food or formula.

    When might a gastric emptying study be needed?

    A gastric emptying study can help:

    • detect gastroesophageal reflux
    • measure gastric emptying time
    • detect aspiration
    • evaluate a reason for nausea and vomiting
    • evaluate why a child is not gaining weight
    • assess why a child is having abdominal pain

    How should I prepare my child for a gastric emptying study?

    • Your child cannot eat or drink anything four hours prior to the examination.

    • It is important not to have had a barium study within 48 hours prior.

    • If your child is fed through a gastric tube, please bring the formula you use with you.

    • If your child is bottle fed, please bring your infant's formula with you.

    • If your child has an allergy to either eggs or milk, please call your child's doctor.

    • It is helpful to give your child a simple explanation as to why a gastric emptying study is needed and assure him that you will be with him or her for the entire time.

    • You may want to bring your child's favorite book, toy or comforting object to use during waiting times.

    • We have various videos or DVDs to choose from for your child to watch during the procedure or you can bring one from home.

    Your visit to the Division of Nuclear Imaging will last approximately one hour and 45 minutes.

    What should I expect when I bring my child to the hospital for a gastric emptying study?

    When you arrive, please go to the Nuclear Medicine check-in desk on the second floor of the main hospital or the first floor check-in desk at our Waltham facility. A clinical intake coordinator will check in your child and verify his registration information.

    What happens during a gastric emptying study?

    • You will be greeted by one of our nuclear medicine technologists who will explain to you and your child what will happen during the study.

    • Your child will be asked to change into a hospital gown.

    • The technologist will add a small amount of the radiopharmaceutical to either scrambled eggs (if a solid study) or to formula/milk (if a liquid study). Your child's referring physician will determine if the study should be liquid or solid.

    • Your child will eat the test food or liquid, which must be consumed within 10 minutes. The radiopharmaceutical is tasteless.

    • When eating is complete, your child will lie on his back on a table over the camera and imaging of the stomach will begin.

    • It is important that your child remains as still as possible for the best quality images.

    The imaging portion of the exam will last for approximately one hour.

    Will my child feel anything during a gastric emptying study?

    Although the camera used to take pictures may appear large and intimidating, it does not touch your child.

    Is a gastric emptying study safe?

    We are committed to ensuring that your child receives the smallest radiation dose needed to obtain the desired result.

    • Nuclear medicine has been used on babies and children for more than 40 years with no known adverse effects from the low doses employed.

    • The radiopharmaceutical contains a very tiny amount of radioactive molecules, but we believe that the benefit to your child's health outweighs potential radiation risk.

    • The camera used to obtain the images does not produce any radiation.

    What happens after the gastric emptying study?

    Once the gastric emptying study is complete, the images will be evaluated for quality. If the scan is adequate, your child will be free to leave and resume normal activity.

    One of the Children's nuclear medicine physicians will review your child's images and create a report of the findings and diagnosis.

    How do I learn the results of the gastric emptying study?

    The nuclear medicine physician will provide a report to the doctor who ordered your child's gastric emptying study. Your child's doctor will then discuss the results with you.

  • Safety

    Because nuclear medicine procedures involve small amounts of radiation, we are committed to ensuring that your child receives the lowest possible dose needed to obtain the high-quality images needed for accurate diagnosis and treatment.

    Our physicians and physicists are leaders in adjusting equipment and procedures to deliver low doses appropriate to children. We are part of the Image Gently Campaign and the Pediatric Imaging Council of the Society of Nuclear Medicine; we helped develop Image Gently guidelines so hospitals across the country can minimize children's exposure to radiation during medical procedures. We helped to write a brochure for parents available here.

    From the lab to the clinic

    Physicians and scientists in our research laboratories are working to develop new agents for the diagnosis and treatment of pediatric diseases. Our Small Animal Imaging Laboratory has a research PET scanner, called the microPET, which was the first of its kind to be installed at a pediatric hospital. The scanner helps scientists investigate mechanisms of disease and develop and refine new nuclear medicine imaging techniques.

  • Location  Address  Contact 
     Boston Boston Children's Hospital
    300 Longwood Avenue
    Boston MA 02115 
    fax: 617-730-0623 
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