What is a gastric emptying scan?
A gastric emptying scan is used to show the structure of your child’s oesophagus (food pipe) and stomach and how well they are working. It works by mixing a small amount of a substance called an isotope into your child’s feed, which is then given to your child.
Are there any alternatives?
Various types of scan such as CT, ultrasound and x-rays can show the size and location of your child’s food pipe and stomach but not how well they are working. The results of the scan are then used to plan your child’s treatment.
This scan is very important in showing digestive problems, so even if your child cannot usually feed by mouth, this scan is still necessary.
One week before the appointment
If you are pregnant or think you could be pregnant, please let us know at least two days before your child is due to come to GOSH for the scan. There is a risk that the isotope given to your child could harm your unborn baby, so we advise you to organise another adult to look after your child for the first 24 hours after the scan.
If this is not possible, we may have the reschedule your appointment. If your daughter is 12 years old or older, we will ask her about her periods and any possibility that she could be pregnant.
The day of the scan
Your child should not eat or drink anything for four hours before the scan. You should follow these instructions exactly, otherwise the scan may be delayed or even cancelled.
We have some liquids available in the department but if your child has a favourite, please bring this with you. Suitable types of liquid include orange juice, milk or milkshake. You will need to bring at least 300mls (about half a pint) for the scan.
If your child is tube fed (either through a naso-gastric tube or gastrostomy tube), please bring appropriate feed as well as any adapters needed.
Please arrive at the Nuclear Medicine department at the time stated in your child’s appointment letter.
Your child will be able to watch a DVD during the scan, so please bring along any favourites. It can also help if your child has a favourite toy to hold as well.
Your child will not need to get undressed for the scan. However, they should wear clothes containing as little metal, such as zips or buttons, as possible as this interferes with the scan.
You will be able to stay with your child throughout the scan. The radiographer will mix the isotope into your child’s drink before giving it to your child. They will need to be put on the scanning bed and lie very still while some pictures are taken. We can put sandbags around your child to help keep them still.
The scan itself lasts around one and a half hours. Additional pictures may be needed two hours after the drink and occasionally two hours after that. We will warn you if we think additional pictures are likely.
After the scan
Some children have a gastric emptying (solids) scan on the same day – you will have been sent an appointment letter with this information sheet if this is the case.
If your child is not having any further scans or tests, you will be free to go home. The radiographer will send a report about the scan to your child’s doctor.
Are there any risks?
There are no side effects to the scan. The isotope will not interfere with any medicines your child is taking.
The isotope contains a very small amount of radioactivity, similar to the amount we receive from natural background radiation in about six months. This is not a danger to your child as the isotope becomes inactive in the hours following the scan.
However, it is necessary to take some precautions for the first 24 hours after the scan, while the isotope is leaving your child’s body. These are explained in the next section.
There is a risk that the isotope could harm the unborn baby, so please follow the instructions earlier in this leaflet to minimise these risks.
For the first 24 hours after the scan:
Your child should drink plenty of fluids. This will allow the isotope to pass out through their body as quickly as possible.
If your child is toilet-trained, they should go to the toilet as often as possible. Hand washing afterwards is very important.
If your child is in nappies, you should change them frequently and dispose of the dirty nappy in an outside bin. Wash your hands thoroughly after nappy changing.
If you are pregnant or think you could be pregnant, you should avoid contact with your child’s bodily fluids, such as urine (wee), faeces (poo) and vomit.
Your child should continue to take any medicines as usual. The isotope will not affect them in any way.
Last reviewed by Great Ormond Street Hospital: July 2011
Ref: 2011F0354 July 2011
Compiled by the Radiology department in collaboration with the Child and Family Information Group
This information does not constitute health or medical advice and will not necessarily reflect treatment at other hospitals. If you have any questions, please ask your doctor. No liability can be taken as a result of using this information.