Gastric Emptying Scan

General Information | Scheduling, Insurance and Preparation | What to Expect

General information General Information

About Nuclear Medicine

Nuclear medicine exams image bodily function rather than anatomy. They can be useful in finding problems that are not obvious by looking at the structure of an organ or tissue. This is done with the use of small amounts of radioactive materials, also known as tracers. Each tracer is designed to be attracted to specific organs or types of body tissue. Special cameras that can map the distribution of the radioactive tracer create images which are studied by radiologists.

Nuclear medicine scans are very safe. Nuclear medicine has been used in newborns and children for more than four decades and even longer in adults. There are no known long-term adverse effects from such low-dose exams.

About Gastric Emptying Scans

The energy emitted from the swallowed radioactive material is captured in images.

A gastric emptying scan is a nuclear medicine exam in which the patient eats or drinks a radioactive meal followed by multiple scans of the stomach over time. The meal may either be solid (usually scrambled eggs with toast for adults and older children), or it may be liquid (usually milk or formula for infants and younger children). The scans are analyzed to determine the amount of time it takes the stomach to empty after a meal.

Gastric emptying scans are used to diagnose movement disorders of the stomach, gastroesophageal reflux, and aspiration.

Risks Involved in a Gastric Emptying Scan

The risks involved in a gastric emptying scan are minimal. They include the following:

  • Radiation exposure; however, a very small amount of radioactive material is used and the radiation exposure is well below the level that generally causes adverse affects.
  • Allergic reactions to the meal; however, this is rare.
  • Discomfort while laying on the table for the required amount of time for the scan.

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Scheduling, Insurance and Preparation Scheduling, Insurance and Preparation

Exam Locations

The exam is performed at the following Radiology Imaging Associates partner hospitals in the Denver, Colorado area:

Call the hospital to schedule.


To schedule a gastric emptying scan, please call the hospital where the exam will be performed.

  • Medical Center of Aurora
  • Littleton Adventist Hospital
  • Porter Adventist Hospital
  • Sky Ridge Medical Center
  • Swedish Medical Center

Insurance Coverage

Gastric emptying scans are usually covered by insurance when ordered by a physician. Check with your insurance company to be sure. Please bring your insurance card with you to your exam.

Conditions to Let Us Know About

In advance of your exam, let your scheduler, technologist, or radiologist know if any of the following circumstances apply to you (or your child):

  • Pregnant or may be pregnant
  • Breastfeeding
  • You’ve had an exam that uses barium within the past 48 hours
  • You have an allergy to milk,eggs, or gluten
  • Claustrophobic
  • Allergies to medications, contrast dyes, or latex

Preparation Guidelines

Following are the general preparation instructions for this exam. You may receive additional or differing guidelines based on your specific situation. Please contact the hospital at which you will have the exam if you have any questions.

  • Do not eat or drink anything for at least 4 hours prior to the exam. Medications may be taken with a small amount of water up to 2 hours prior.
  • If you are diabetic, contact the hospital for instructions regarding your diabetes medications.
  • If you are taking gastric motility medications, narcotics or sedatives, contact the hospital for instructions on when to stop taking these.
  • If the patient is your baby, bring a bottle of their own formula or breast milk from home.
  • If the patient is your child, bring any of the following items to increase his or her comfort: CDs, movies, pacifiers, special blankets, and stuffed toys.

Support for Your Child

If your child is having the exam, it is important that you provide emotional support for him or her before and during the procedure. If your child is old enough to understand, explain the procedure to him or her. Let him or her know that the exam won’t hurt and that he or she will have to lie very still throughout the exam. Also reassure your child that you will be able to remain in the room during the exam.

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What to Expect What to Expect

During the Exam

A nuclear medicine gastric emptying exam requires multiple scans. Here is generally what will happen:

  1. You will complete some paper work upon arrival.
  2. You will ingest food (or formula for a baby) with a small amount of radioactive material mixed in. You will have approximately 10 minutes to do so.
  3. A technologist will position you on a table for the scan and a gamma camera will obtain images of the stomach.
  4. For solid meals, the images (1-2 minutes each) are taken immediately and then at 1 hour, 2 hours, and 4 hours after eating. For liquid meals, continuous images are usually obtained over 1 hour.

Additional Measures for Children

Up to two adults may be in the nuclear medicine room with your child.

After the Exam


You can return to your normal activities immediately after the exam.

Exam Results

A board-certified radiologist experienced in the interpretation of gastric emptying scans will analyze the data and results from your exam. If the patient is a child, the exam data will be analyzed by a radiologist experienced in the interpretation of pediatric gastric emptying scans. The results will be reported to your physician. Your physician will pass the results onto you.

During the exam, our radiologists and technologists will be happy to answer questions about the exam itself; however, they will not immediately provide you with the results of your exam.

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