Gastric suction

Alternative names
Gastric lavage; Stomach pumping; Nasogastric tube

Gastric suction is a procedure to empty the contents of the stomach, usually for analysis or removal of irritating elements such as poisons.

How the test is performed

A tube is inserted through the nose or mouth, down the esophagus, and into the stomach. Sometimes a topical anesthetic may be applied to minimize irritation and gagging as the tube is being placed.

Stomach contents can be removed using suction immediately or after irrigating water through the tube.

How to prepare for the test

In an emergency setting such as when a patient has swallowed poison or is vomiting blood, no preparation is needed for gastric suction. When it is done for the analysis of gastric acid, your physician may ask you to fast overnight or stop taking certain medications.

How the test will feel
You may feel a gagging sensation as the tube is passed.

Why the test is performed
This test may be performed for several different reasons, such as:

  • To remove poisons, toxic substances, or overdosed medications from the stomach  
  • To irrigate and clean the stomach prior to performing an upper endoscopy (EGD) in someone who has been vomiting blood  
  • To collect stomach acid contents for further analysis  
  • To provide relief and decompression in someone with intestinal obstruction

What the risks are

There is a very small risk of the tube being accidentally placed into the airway instead of the esophagus.

Other small risks include the following:

  • Aspiration of gastric contents  
  • Perforation of the esophagus  
  • Minor bleeding

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 6, 2012
by Simon D. Mitin, M.D.

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