Gastric Suction (Stomach Pumping)

Written by Teresa Bergen
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

What Is Gastric Suction?

Gastric suction, commonly known as “stomach pumping,” empties the contents of your stomach quickly during an emergency. It is also known as gastric lavage and nasogastric tube suction.

Reasons for Gastric Suction

This procedure is used in emergencies, such as when someone has swallowed poison or overdosed on pills.

The following are some other reasons doctors use this procedure:

  • to collect a sample of stomach acid
  • to relieve pressure on blocked intestines
  • to suction out blood if a stomach hemorrhage occurs
  • to clean out your stomach if you are vomiting blood during an endoscopy. This is a test in which a scope is inserted down your esophagus.

If you’ve swallowed something poisonous, such as a household chemical, get to the hospital as soon as possible. Gastric suction is most successful if performed within four hours of ingesting a poisonous substance. Once the poison works its way further into your digestive tract, the procedure will be unable to remove it.

After certain surgeries on the abdominal area, such as a gastrectomy (partial or total removal of the stomach), gastric suction can help to keep your stomach empty while you heal. In this case, you won’t be eating solid foods, so only thin liquids will be in your stomach. A low level of suction will be used to remove the fluids.

Preparing for Gastric Suction

If you’re having this procedure because of poisoning or a drug overdose, there won’t be time for preparation. However, if your doctor orders gastric suction to collect stomach acid for a test, you may be told to fast or not to take certain medications before the procedure.

How Gastric Suction Is Performed

Before the procedure, you may take medicine to numb your throat, which will help to decrease gagging or irritation. A doctor will then insert a tube into your mouth or nose. The tube will go down through your esophagus (the pipe in your throat where food goes after swallowing) and will eventually enter your stomach.

The doctor may spray water or saline solution down the tube before applying suction to draw out the contents of your stomach. Saline solution can protect you against electrolyte imbalances that could occur due to the removal of fluids from your stomach.

You may feel like gagging while the tube is going in. Afterwards, your throat may feel irritated.

If you are having a tube inserted while recovering from abdominal surgery, it will stay in while you heal. A nurse will probably irrigate the tube regularly with saline solution. The fluid helps to keep the tube open and prevent blockages. The amount of fluid needed will depend on the size of the tube and of the patient.

Risks of Gastric Suction

This procedure has quite a few risks. The most common is aspiration pneumonia. This is when some of your stomach contents get into your lungs or airways. Untreated aspiration pneumonia could lead to a lung abscess, lung swelling, or a lung infection, such as pneumonia. Symptoms of this condition include chest pain, coughing with phlegm, exhaustion, a bluish tint to the skin, fever, and wheezing.

Other risks include:

  • a spasm of the vocal cords, which temporarily prevents normal breathing
  • the tube might enter your airway instead of the esophagus
  • the tube could poke a hole in your esophagus
  • stomach contents might get pushed further into your bowels
  • minor bleeding

Talk to your doctor about any concerns you may have about this procedure.

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