Gastric emptying study/gastric motility

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 Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging program 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 achievable while 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.  This test can be done as a liquid, solid or gastric motility study.

  • 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 g-tube and the formula you use with you.
  • If your child is bottle fed, please bring your infant's formula with you.
  • If your child is scheduled for a motility study, please bring bread and jam 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 DVDs to choose from for your child to watch during the procedure or you can bring one from home.

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  Pavilion Building of the main hospital. 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.
  • The food options will be dependent on the type of gastric emptying study your physician has ordered
  • 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). Please bring formula with you.
  • If you are having a gastric motility study you will be asked to eat scrambled eggs, toast, jam and a glass of water.  (Please bring bread and jam with you)
  • 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.

If you are having a solid or liquid gastric emptying study, imaging will be one hour.

If you are having a gastric motility study, imaging will be approximately 5 hours.


Gastric Emptying Study Movie

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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.
  • It is safe to be with your child in the imaging room if you are pregnant or nursing

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.

Contact Us
Department of Radiology