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Gastric Emptying Study / Test for Gastroparesis

When I started this blog I vowed I would do my best to pass on information that I thought might be helpful to others. In my mind, I kept the topics pretty broad to include anything health and wellness with a smattering of beauty favs and products I love. Well, I have REALLY slipped on giving any information for the past few months. Truth is, it was hard to blog about health and wellness when I was feeling neither healthy nor well. I was experiencing nausea on nearly a daily basis. And, I was really quite scared about seeing a gastroenterologist. I think part of my hang-up was that I somehow believed that as a dietitian I should be able to fix my digestive problems. Obviously this is a ridiculous notion. And, I finally bit the bullet and scheduled an appointment.

Fearing I would have to face some invasive procedure, I was very relieved that the initial plan involved simple blood tests checking for H Pylori, Celiac disease, anemia (folate, b 12, and iron) and immunoglobulins (which indicate food allergy). It was also recommended that I have a simple study done to see how quickly my food is moving through my GI tract – mainly my stomach. Since my primary complaint was nausea with bloating and a feeling of fullness, the doctor suspected s a condition called gastroparesis in which the stomach does not receive the correct stimulation telling it to push food on to the small intestine. I also later learned in talking with the test technician that having thyroid disease also put me at risk, since according to her 90% of people with thyroid problems also have GI problems.

GASTRIC EMPTYING SCAN
In order to determine if I did have gastroparesis, I went to have a gastric emptying scan. I was very nervous about the test – although I really didn’t need to be. So, I would like to share with you the specifics so that should you ever need to have this study done you will be fully prepared:
The night before the test I was not allowed to eat or drink (even water) after midnight, since my test was at 8:00a.m. this translated to 8 hours. Although I never eat that late anyway, I did drink some water just before bed since I suffer from dry mouth and I knew that would be a long stretch with no liquids.

The morning of the exam I dressed in loose sweats and a t-shirt. I kind of wish I had also brought a removable sweatshirt or sweater.

I checked in with the front desk and was taken to the exam room. There I was asked to sit down while the technician prepared my special “meal”. She explained that the food contained a substance that would help them watch the food as it traveled through my stomach (I later learned it was a radioisotope). The special substance was concealed in a meal of beef stew which I was instructed to eat. As I began picking at the potatoes and carrots the technician warned that I needed to eat it all – even the grayish, mystery meat. I told her I was pacing myself because I wasn’t much of a meat eater and she reminded me that I only had 5 minutes to finish – I think I must have missed that part of her initial explanation. But, her warnings did force me to pick up the pace. I was able to drink water which really helped everything go down. All and all, it really wasn’t that bad. After I finished I told the technician that I normally eat like a vegetarian, so the meat was no picnic for me. She kind of laughed and told me that the vegetarian version is much worse – 3 eggs with lots of mayonnaise. UGGGHH!!! I hate mayo, so if that was my meal I would have lost it for sure. After hearing that I was actually loving the beef stew.

I was then instructed to hop up on a long table that was covered with a soft sheet and had a fluffy pillow at the end. I asked if I could remove my shoes knowing that I was basically settling in for a long pseudo-nap. The technician was all for that move.

Once comfortable on the table – and it was surprisingly comfortable. The tech pushed a button which made the entire table move down toward a giant x-ray machine. When my stomach was just under the machine, the table stopped. My head was outside of the machine leaving me free to stare mindlessly at the ceiling. Then the countdown began. Although the tech initially told me that I would be able to get up after an hour, because I had my eyes closed the entire time she thought I was sleeping. I was not actually sleeping – instead I was trying very hard to relax, taking deep breaths, and listening attentively to the music that was playing in the room. Although I was covered with several blankets, I did get a little chilly after the first hour. And, while I did get a bit fidgety at times, the ability to just lie still gave me a lot of time to think. In fact, it gave me lots of creative inspiration for upcoming topics to write about (like this lengthy post)!

After nearly 2 hours passed, I was able to get off the table and go to the bathroom. Then I waited in a waiting area where I stayed for about 30 mins before returning to the table. I used that time to read a magazine I had brought along – I had also brought my MP3 player, but wouldn’t have been able to comfortably use that during the exam since my arms needed to remain by my sides at all times.

I was asked to return to the table, but this time I was only under the machine for around 5 mins, and afterwards I was allowed to leave the office completely with instructions to return in a few hours.

When I returned I had just 5 more minutes on the table and I was free to go. At that point my fear was completely gone and my inquisitive nature took hold. I then asked the tech exactly what had just transpired. She explained that they were taking pictures of my stomach at 1 hour, 2 hours, 3 hours, and 4 hours – with some time in between. Afterwards she would be piecing those pictures together to determine how much of my beef stew had left my stomach. The goal is that by the 2 hour mark 60% of the stew should have left my stomach, and by the 4 hour mark, there really shouldn’t have been any traces left.

So, long story short, if you ever have to have a gastric emptying scan – fear not. It is easy and pain free!

Comments

  1. Regina says

    Thanks for the information. I actually have a gastric emptying test in about a week and a half. I have symptoms similar to the ones you described.
    The person that scheduled the appointment for me told me that the test should take 2 hours but didn’t mention anything about coming back for the 3rd or 4th hour mark. We’ll see how it goes!
    Have you found any relief from your symptoms since this?

  2. WebHealthWriter.com says

    Regina – I think that my original instructions were for 2 hours too. I think they have you come back later if at the 2 hour mark there is more than 60% of the food left. But, don’t let that worry you, I think they probably need the extra time to be absolutely sure they aren’t missing anything. My diagnosis came back as borderline. And, my symptoms did seem to be caused by my thyroid being low. Once I had my medication adjusted my symptoms slowly went away. Now I don’t have any of the bloating or nausea. I also learned that I was really anxious which was contributing to my problems – stress plays havoc on digestion. I now practice deep breathing regularly and that helps a great deal. A product called Rescue Remedy (Bach flower essences) also helped. I will put in a blog about that product soon.

  3. special says

    I went through a gastric emptying test recently. My test lasted for 2 hours. I was diagnosed with idiopathic gastroparesis and I had only digested 25% of the food in 2 hours. My GI doctor told me that almost 50% of the meal should leave the stomach in 2 hours in order to have a normal result. So, I was told I have moderate gastroparesis. I can relate to anyone who has this. It is the worse thing I could live with. It took 3 years and 3 GI doctors before they could figure out what was going on with me. My last GI doctor told me I had nothing but anxiety!

  4. Regina says

    Update: I was diagnosed with idiopathic gastroparesis too. My doctor said that it was significantly delayed–taking 4 times longer to empty than a normal stomach. I did not have to go back for the 3rd and 4th hour marks.
    My doctor discussed prescribing Reglan, but I have heard bad things about its side effects. Have you heard of this drug? I am going to keep trying to manage it on my own.
    I also have GERD–I don’t know if this is a cause or effect of gastroparesis…I wish more information was available; it is frustrating having something that no one really knows much about–and take 40 mg Protonix. I fear that I will develop a tolerance and will have to keep increasing the dosage of the protonix. I still experience chest pain (upper endoscopy revealed esophagitis) and pain/sickness in the pit of my stomach (gastritis).
    I really believe this condition and my IBS is a result of brain-gut signals being out of whack. Do you find there is a link between gastroparesis and IBS?
    I have found some help by following the guidelines in Eating for IBS by Heather Van Vorous, which recommends eating soluble fibers first, and insoluble fibers with care. These insoluble fibers, and fats for that matter, slow digestion even further for people like us. I frustrated with the lack of help from the GI doctor. I am looking for more lifestyle help than an easy prescription.
    I’ve cut caffeine and artificial sweeteners from my diet completely.
    My best times are in the morning and my worst times are in the evening. Is this the same for you?
    I am thinking about switching to Ensure for dinner from now on to make sure I still get nourished but that I am not sitting up at night miserable trying to let my stomach digest.
    I’ve come across many young people with idiopathic gastroparesis. I am a 23 year old female. Do you mind me asking your age?

  5. WebHealthWriter.com says

    When I was experiencing gastroparesis I went to a naturopath. She was very helpful, but very expensive. She put me on a medical food called UltraInflamX by metagenics. It is a powder that contains ginger, turmeric and other anti-inflammatory compounds in an easy to digest rice protein base. She also gave me a digestive enzyme supplement. That seemed to work for me, but part of my problem was also low thyroid and ultimately correcting that made my GI problems go away. So, I urge you to get your thyroid checked if you haven’t already.
    A gastroparesis diet is similar to the type used for IBS. However, you need to be careful with fiber. Fiber is hard to digest and can cause a lot of discomfort. What is frustrating about gastroparesis is you actually have to avoid most healthy eating habits! You should cut down on fiber, fresh fruits and veggies, beans and meats. You should also cut back on fats as much as possible. You basically want to focus on foods that are really easy to digest: rice, canned fruit, fruit juices, shakes. Ensure probably is a good idea if you are having trouble getting enough calories. Here is a great resource written by a dietitian that gives tips:
    http://www.healthsystem.virginia.edu/internet/digestive-health/nutrition/GASTROPARESIS-DIET.pdf

    Also, I ate(and still do) candied ginger frequently. It helps to stimulate digestion and ease an upset stomach. I am not sure if it would aggravate GERD, but it is worth a try. I also chewed DGL licorice which coats the stomach. That also gave me some relief.

    I had heard good things about Reglan, but I can understand anyone being nervous about prescription drugs. I personally try to avoid them whenever possible. But, the Reglan might be worth a try.

    Another thing with any GI issues is the mind/body connection. If you are under a great deal of stress your GI tract will be impacted. If this sounds likely, talk therapy with a counselor can really help. I am 34, and I know of numerous women my age and younger who have GI problems. Oftentimes stress is a big factor – not the only factor – but a factor none the less. Best of luck to you!

  6. (:|:)LaDyBug(:|:) says

    To the Regina: I was Reglan and hated the side-effect. It made me insanely restless and gave me tremors. I could not focus at work, I couldn’t hold a pen steady to write and my foot constantly shook. It also gave me stomach cramps, extreme drowsiness and an over-all feeling of uneasiness. To make matters worse, I was still vomiting while on it, albeit with greater difficulty and a little less. I did gain about 2 pounds back over the 1-2 weeks I was on it. That being said, I would still stay away from the drug.

    To everyone else: To this day the doctors have not figured out what is wrong with me. I vomit EVERYTHING I eat or drink, including water. I have lost 15 pounds in less than one month (10 pounds the first two weeks). This condition came out of nowhere. I have gastric emptying study this week. I hope it will tell the doctors something, since that are still clueless after an endoscopy, an abdominal CT scan, and a CAT scan of the head.

    • says

      Two people I know have the same story. CT and US showed nothing but an MRI showed a blocked artery in the gastro tract. The digestive tract has a special blood system and nervous system called “enteric” It took a cardiologist anda gastro to finally figure out. I am not saying that is what yo have but ask questions. I have a third of a pancreas after a surgery 10 yrs. ago. I am on insulin as a diabetic but impossible to regulate. I find I eat more on insulin than I did before and now I want to find an endo who is also a nutritionist. Sort of impossible. carole .

      • says

        Good points Carole. It is always important to ask lots of questions and seek help from as many sources as possible. Unfortunately our medical system tends to be a bit tunnel visioned and often looks at just one organ and one cause for illness. It is not uncommon for it to take multiple docs to piece things together. I have another site that talks more about this and the importance of the mind and spirit when dealing with any health concerns ( http://www.happyhealthyher.com/ ). What we think and feel impacts our digestive tracts tremendously. You might want to find a naturopath to help you sort out your blood sugar/nutrition issues. They have the medical training that allows them to also prescribe insulin. Best.

  7. sabita says

    Hey! Thanks for the info about the test. I am going to have it done on 6/3. So it is helpful to know what to expect.

  8. Cindy says

    Thanks for the information about the gastric emptying test. If nothing is helping the gastroparesis (meds and natural treatments), do you know what happens then?

  9. WebHealthWriter.com says

    Sorry Cindy – I don't really know for sure what the answer is if medicine and treatment doesn't help. But, it is definitely important to get adequate nutrition, so being fed intravenously may be necessary if malnourishment exists (i.e. you can't keep any food down). My guess is that is very rare however since most cases tend to resolve over time.

    Personally, if I was going through that again, I think I would try acupuncture because that might be able to stimulate the nerves that are causing the problem. I found this very small study on the topic http://www.liebertonline.com/doi/abs/10.1089/acu.2008.0605

  10. Gabrielle74 says

    Thank you all for this information. I had the gastric emptying study today, not bad at all, painless, mine only lasted 2 hours and they didn't leave me laying a table the whole time which I was thankful for since my GERD is out of control despite Prevacid. Apparently the preliminary report showed a mild case, although most of the oatmeal had left my stomach after 2 hours. At this time, until the final results come in next week, GI dr is holding off on prescribing meds, however I'm not able to eat much of anything. Everything makes me nauseous after about 2-3 hrs of eating. I'll will get a ton of gas in my stomach and esophogus and have to continue to swallow from the regurgitation. Does anyone have any tips on a diet or perhaps a link I can go to because I'm feeling so frail from not eating?

  11. Shay says

    yea i just had a gastric emptying test done today. it wasn't bad. i was there for two hours for the test. but i didn't have to go back after the 2 hours. but i won't get my results til next week. but yea i've been dealing with this for almost a year now n it really sucks :(. i'm 20 n i haven't ever had any problems until last summer (2008). i've had so many test run to figure out what's going on. Endoscopy,checked for gallstones, HIDA scan,yadda yadda n they all come back the same. I'm not sure what the Gastric Emptying test will say yet. but yea my symptoms r the same. The bloating, gas, fatigue sometimes, the discomfort on the right side of my stomach, and nausea. it really sucks bad.i find it interesting that some of u mention the thyroid. i was having problems with my neck n had my thyroid checked out but that came back normal tho so i don't know. i just pray that we all find relief n the answers to these problems. if anyone has some good feedback please let me kno. thanks :)

  12. Hannah says

    Thanks for the information! I was diagnosed with gastroparesis about a month ago. I am 18 and otherwise very healthy! I throw up whatever I eat almost exactly 30 minutes after I eat. After numeruous GI doctors (who all told me I had a virus…ya right!) I found a doctor who performed an upper GI study, an endoscopy. When they went in, there was food in my stomach, leading to the gastroparesis diagnosis. They gave me reglan and sent me on my way. Needless to say, the reglan didn't work. But, I found a MIRACLE drug that DOES work! Its called Donperidone. Its not made in the USA, but you can get it from Canada. I highly recommend this drug to anyone with gastroparesis….so go ask your doctor if he can perscribe it to you. Gastroparesis is a terrible disease, but if you stay adament to your treatment (which mine includes a strict diet and numerous medications) you CAN get better. With this disease, it's a matter of finding what treatment works best for you. Keep on trying different things, and you will figure out what will make you feel better :) Thanks again for the info about the test…best of luck to you and your treatment!

  13. Samantha says

    I am researching this as its what I believe I have. Ive never been big on doctors or medicine. Whenever I would tell a doc of a symptom an continually adding more symptoms they’re lost and seem to belittle the issue. I am very intelligent and always learning and researching an plan to go to a doctor tomorrow with my findings. I believe my gastroparesis was caused by bad eating habits and stress. For years now I would experience a bad headache from malnutrition caused by lack of appetite or ability to eat, followed by throwing up stomach pains an then koose stools an take days to get back right. My health has been degrading an its becoming more and more often. Hopeing to get started tomorrow on answers, still reluctant but have two children I want to be better for.

    • says

      Hi Samantha, I’m glad you are seeking medical help. If you don’t like the way a doctor treats you, please find someone else to help. A Naturopath might be able to offer you assistance. I explain about how to find one on my other website: http://www.happyhealthyher.com/health-systems/naturopathy/ What you have described in terms of throwing up, stomach pains and loose stools actually sounds like Celiac Disease. You might want to ask that you doctor to screen you for that. And, depending on your results (or even if they are negative), you might want to try a gluten free diet. Gluten causes me to have loose stools and stomach pains and I think it actually then contributed to my gastroparesis (because my whole system was thrown off). Good luck.

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