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Gastric emptying of a liquid nutrient meal in the critically ill: relationship between scintigraphic and carbon breath test measurement
  1. M J Chapman1,
  2. L K Besanko2,
  3. C M Burgstad3,
  4. R J Fraser2,4,
  5. M Bellon5,
  6. S O'Connor1,
  7. A Russo4,
  8. K L Jones4,
  9. K Lange4,
  10. N Q Nguyen3,
  11. F Bartholomeusz5,
  12. B Chatterton5,
  13. M Horowitz4
  1. 1Department of Intensive Care Medicine, Royal Adelaide Hospital, South Australia, Australia
  2. 2Investigation and Procedures Unit, Repatriation General Hospital, Daw Park, South Australia, Australia
  3. 3Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Royal Adelaide Hospital, South Australia, Australia
  4. 4University of Adelaide, Division of Medicine, Royal Adelaide Hospital, South Australia, Australia
  5. 5Department of Nuclear Medicine, Royal Adelaide Hospital, South Australia, Australia
  1. Correspondence to A/Professor Marianne Chapman, Intensive Care Unit, Royal Adelaide Hospital, North Terrace, Adelaide, SA 5000, Australia; marianne.chapman{at}


Objective It is assumed that delayed gastric emptying (GE) occurs frequently in critical illness; however, the prevalence of slow GE has not previously been assessed using scintigraphy. Furthermore, breath tests could potentially provide a convenient method of quantifying GE, but have not been validated in this setting. The aims of this study were to (i) determine the prevalence of delayed GE in unselected, critically ill patients and (ii) evaluate the relationships between GE as measured by scintigraphy and carbon breath test.

Design Prospective observational study.

Setting Mixed medical/surgical intensive care unit.

Patients 25 unselected, mechanically ventilated patients (age 66 years (49–72); and 14 healthy subjects (age 62 years (19–84)).

Interventions GE was measured using scintigraphy and 14C-breath test. A test meal of 100 ml Ensure (standard liquid feed) labelled with 14C octanoic acid and 99mTechnetium sulphur colloid was placed in the stomach via a nasogastric tube.

Main outcome measures Gastric ‘meal’ retention (scintigraphy) at 60, 120, 180 and 240 min, breath test t50 (BTt50), and GE coefficient were determined.

Results Of the 24 patients with scintigraphic data, GE was delayed at 120 min in 12 (50%). Breath tests correlated well with scintigraphy in both patients and healthy subjects (% retention at 120 min vs BTt50; r2=0.57 healthy; r2=0.56 patients; p≤0.002 for both).

Conclusions GE of liquid nutrient is delayed in approximately 50% of critically ill patients. Breath tests correlate well with scintigraphy and are a valid method of GE measurement in this group.

  • Gastric emptying
  • critical illness
  • scintigraphy
  • breath test
  • gastric residual volume
  • enteral nutrition
  • gastric emptying
  • gastric function tests
  • gastrointestinal motility
  • nutritional support

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  • Funding This study was supported by grants from the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Patient consent Obtained.

  • Ethics approval This study was conducted with the approval of the Royal Adelaide Hospital.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.