What to Know About Your Child’s Gastric Emptying Test

Baby before gastric emptying test

A hearty meal may leave your child feeling full and satisfied. A little too much dairy can give them an upset stomach. These are just normal parts of eating, and usually are not cause for concern.

But if your child often feels very full after eating, has frequent stomach aches or vomiting, or is not gaining weight, there may be something else at play.

In these cases, your child’s provider may order a gastric emptying study. Gastric emptying studies are nuclear imaging tests — they use small amounts of radioactive materials that are put into your child’s food. A special camera takes the energy that comes from the material and turns it into images for the radiologist.

Then, the radiologist will use the images to measure the time it takes for food to empty from the stomach and enter the small intestine.

Don’t let the word “radioactive” make you panic — the amount of radiation used is safe and small, about the same amount used in an x-ray. The radiation will clear your child’s body naturally within 2 to 3 days.

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Types of Gastric Emptying Studies

There are two types of gastric emptying studies: solids studies and liquids studies.

Solids Studies

During a solids study, the radioactive material is added to food.

  • Older children and teenagers will receive the radioactive material in a solid meal — a scrambled egg. Let your child’s provider know ahead of time if your child is allergic to eggs.
  • Babies will receive radioactive material in their formula or milk.

Liquid Studies

During a liquids study, the radioactive material is added to a drink.

  • Older children and teenagers will receive the radioactive material to a cup of milk. Let your child’s provider know ahead of time if your child is allergic to milk.
  • Babies will receive the radioactive material in a bottle of formula. Please bring enough formula to replicate a “typical feeding” for your child.

Your child will need to drink as much of the liquid as possible within 15 minutes.

After eating or drinking, we begin the imaging test.

What Happens During the Test?

Your child will lay on their back on an imaging table with a camera positioned over their abdomen. It is very important for them to remain as still as possible during the pictures. However, they will be able to move during breaks given between series of images.

  • The camera does not move or touch the body in any way, and it does not contain any radiation.
  • Your child may not eat or drink until the study is completely finished.
  • After the imaging, the radiologist will check to see how much food or liquid has emptied from your child’s stomach.

How to Prepare

A gastric emptying test generally does not require any prep work. However, there a few things to keep in mind as you head to the hospital:

  • Have your child wear clothing without zippers, metal, or belts to the test. If the clothes contain metal, your child will be required to change into a hospital gown.
  • The test itself takes 2 to 4 hours. Between registration, eating the meal, and the test itself, prepare to be in the hospital for 4 to 6 hours.
  • Two parents or guardians are allowed to accompany your child into the exam room, as long as neither are pregnant.
  • You will need to remain in the Radiology area during the breaks between scans. We recommend bringing something to keep your child occupied, such as books, toys, or a pacifier.

Remind your child that the test won’t hurt. If they are nervous — or have a history of getting nervous during tests — bring along a comfort item, such as a stuffed animal or blanket.

After the Test

Your child may resume all normal activities when the test is done, and can return to school or daycare without any restrictions.

The radiologist will review the images and give the results to your child’s provider. If you have not received the results from the provider after 5 to 7 days, please call our office at (402) 955-5700.

What To Do Next

For Patients

Make An Appointment

To make an appointment, call 402-955-5700.

For Referring Providers

The Physicians’ Priority Line is your 24-hour link to pediatric specialists at Children’s for referrals, emergency and urgent consults, physician-to-physician consults, admissions, and transport services. Call 855-850-KIDS (5437).

Learn more about referring patients.


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