Diagnosis of Gastroparesis

How do doctors diagnose gastroparesis?

Doctors diagnose gastroparesis based on your medical history, a physical exam, your symptoms, and medical tests. Your doctor may also perform medical tests to look for signs of gastroparesis complications and to rule out other health problems that may be causing your symptoms.

Medical history

Your doctor will ask about your medical history. He or she will ask for details about your current symptoms and medicines, and current and past health problems such as diabetes, scleroderma, nervous system disorders, and hypothyroidism.

Your doctor may also ask about

Physical exam

During a physical exam, your doctor will

A doctor’s fingers pressing on a patient’s abdomen.
Your doctor will check your abdomen for tenderness or pain.

What medical tests do doctors use to diagnose gastroparesis?

Doctors use lab tests, upper gastrointestinal (GI) endoscopy, imaging tests, and tests to measure how fast your stomach is emptying its contents to diagnose gastroparesis.

Lab tests

Your doctor may use the following lab tests:

Upper GI endoscopy

Your doctor may perform an upper GI endoscopy to look for problems in your upper digestive tract that may be causing your symptoms.

Imaging tests

Imaging tests can show problems, such as stomach blockage or intestinal obstruction, that may be causing your symptoms. Your doctor may perform the following imaging tests:

Tests to Measure Stomach Emptying

Your doctor may perform one of more of the following tests to see how fast your stomach is emptying its contents.

  • Gastric emptying scan, also called gastric emptying scintigraphy. For this test, you eat a bland meal—such as eggs or an egg substitute—that contains a small amount of radioactive material. A camera outside your body scans your abdomen to show where the radioactive material is located. By tracking the radioactive material, a health care professional can measure how fast your stomach empties after the meal. The scan usually takes about 4 hours.
  • Gastric emptying breath test. For this test, you eat a meal that contains a substance that is absorbed in your intestines and eventually passed into your breath. After you eat the meal, a health care professional collects samples of your breath over a period of a few hours—usually about 4 hours. The test can show how fast your stomach empties after the meal by measuring the amount of the substance in your breath.
  • Wireless motility capsule, also called a SmartPill. The SmartPill is a small electronic device that you swallow. The capsule moves through your entire digestive tract and sends information to a recorder hung around your neck or clipped to your belt. A health care professional uses the information to find out how fast or slow your stomach empties, and how fast liquid and food move through your small intestine and large intestine. The capsule will pass naturally out of your body with a bowel movement.
January 2018

This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings through its clearinghouses and education programs to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by the NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.

The NIDDK would like to thank:
Michael Camilleri, M.D., Mayo Clinic, Rochester