Comprehensive Guide to Gastric Emptying Tests: What You Need to Know

Comprehensive Guide

for Good Health

It is essential to keep track of the food we consume for successful digestive health. We do this by understanding the processes that involve the emptying of food from the stomach. Gastric emptying tests provide insight into the progress through the digestive system, and when properly administered, can give insight into medical conditions that may affect your health.

What is gastric emptying?

Gastric emptying is the process by which food passes through the stomach and ultimately moves on to the small intestine. The process of digestion starts in the mouth and greatly accelerates in the stomach. This is why it is essential to monitor the time it takes for various food types to travel through and leave the stomach.

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Types of Gastric Emptying Tests

This is the most commonly used type of gastric emptying test. It is a noninvasive imaging procedure and involves swallowing a special solid meal (usually egg salad) labeled with a radioactive tracer. Once the meal is ingested, a gamma camera is used to track the trajectory of the tracer particles as they move through the digestive tract.

Breath Test
The breath test is also noninvasive and is often used alongside the scintigraphy test. The procedure involves drinking a liquid meal source that is labeled with either a carbon- labeled or a xenon- labeled tracer. The tracer is absorbed in the intestine, and the patient is then asked to breathe into a bag at regular intervals. The presence of the tracer in the breath is a reliable indicator of gastric emptying.

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Gastric Emptying Study
The gastric emptying study is generally used to measure the gastric emptying of liquids rather than semi-solid and solid foods. This test is more invasive, as it requires the insertion of a small tube through the nose down to the small intestine. A radiolabeled liquid is then pumped through the tube and tracked with a gamma camera.

Significance of Gastric Emptying Tests

Gastric emptying tests are important for diagnosing and treating diseases and disorders that affect the digestive tract. They provide insight into the effectiveness of the stomach’s ability to break down food, thus providing critical information for doctors and nutritionists to assess dietary changes and treatments.

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For example, they can be used to evaluate patients with diabetic gastroparesis, which is a condition where the emptying of food is delayed due to nerve damage caused by diabetes. These tests can also be used to diagnose diseases such as celiac disease and Crohn’s disease.


Gastric emptying tests are invaluable tools for understanding the progress of food through the digestive system. Through these diagnostic techniques, doctors and nutritionists can evaluate medical conditions and make the necessary dietary adjustments to ensure good health.

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