Why would you get your stomach pumped?
The medical term for getting your stomach pumped is a gastric lavage.
This procedure has been performed since the 1800s. It is somewhat controversial in the medical field, in terms of when it's appropriate and effective to use. From 1993 to 2005, there was about 80 percent decrease in the use of gastric lavage to treat adults and children. Hospitals now have antidotes for several drugs and no longer have to perform a gastric lavage to treat these types of cases.
Medical professionals might pump your stomach if you've swallowed a poisonous material, too much alcohol or a large amount of medication. Doctors might also use it to determine whether your stomach is bleeding, especially if you have been vomiting blood. A gastric lavage might also be appropriate if a doctor needs to collect some of your stomach acid or if you are overheated and suffering from hyperthermia.
Whether a stomach lavage is chosen to treat your symptoms will depend on several factors, including what you swallowed, whether the hospital has an antidote to treat that, how much you swallowed and when you swallowed it.
For example, if a 15-year-old is found unconscious with a bottle of vodka and hasn't eaten anything in 12 hours, it's likely that the alcohol is already in his or her bloodstream.
In that case, a stomach pump might not be the best approach.
If a person took a high dose of Tylenol, he or she might feel fine the same day the pills were taken, but a few days later, liver failure could be a possibility. In this case, a hospital would probably use the antidote for Tylenol if it had it on hand.
Some medications do not have antidotes, and that's when a stomach lavage might be chosen as the best treatment.
Whether someone's stomach is pumped will also depend on how long he or she has been exposed to what was swallowed.
For example, someone who is an alcoholic might receive a different treatment from someone who does not drink frequently but overdoes it one night.
For a poison emergency in the U.S. call (800) 222-1222. The Oklahoma Poison Control Center is open 24/7 and never closes. Licensed pharmacists and nurses provide emergency poisoning management advice.
The center receives more than 50,000 calls each year. The center can often help callers handle cases at home, meaning you wouldn't have to go to the emergency room.
During a poison emergency, if a person collapses or stops breathing, it is important to call 911. If the person is awake, you can call the poison control hotline at (800) 222-1222.
If possible, you'll want to know how old the person is and how much the person weighs.
Also, it's important to have the container of whatever the person ingested and when the person swallowed it. If you go to the hospital, it is recommended that you take the container with you.
What happens when you get your stomach pumped?
When you arrive at the emergency room, the medical personnel will want to know, among other things, what you ingested, how much you ingested and when you ingested it. It is important to bring the container or bottle with you if you can.
Before starting the gastric lavage, a nurse or doctor might insert a tube down your throat to secure a passageway for breathing. This is generally done if there's a concern that you might vomit.
Next, a medical professional will insert a plastic tube into either your mouth or nose. The tube will be run down your throat until it reaches your stomach.
To figure out whether the tube has made it to your stomach, a doctor might push some air down the tube to listen and see whether the tube has made it.
Once the tube is in the stomach, medical staff will secure the tube to your mouth. Next, a nurse or doctor will use a large syringe to push either saline or water into the stomach. You will probably be asked to lie down on your side.
Generally, saline is used with children because using water can sometimes throw off a child's electrolyte balance. With adults, water or saline can be used.
After the fluid is pushed into the stomach, a medical professional will use a syringe to pull fluid from the stomach. This should bring up particles of what you swallowed along with the water or saline. This process will continue for probably about 20 minutes.
The goal is to remove the substance before your body absorbs it. Generally, getting your stomach pumped is most effective if it's performed within 30 minutes to 60 minutes from the time of ingestion. With some substances that take longer to digest, it might still be effective after an hour of ingestion.
After the stomach pumping is complete, a medical professional might administer charcoal to induce vomiting. Some medical research suggests that performing a gastric lavage before administering charcoal isn't any more effective than just being given the charcoal first. Some doctors might skip the gastric lavage and just give you charcoal.
The charcoal is similar in texture to a slushie mixture, but significantly less delicious than something you would find at a restaurant.
Does it hurt?
The amount of pain felt will vary among patients. More often than feeling pain, a person might feel like they need to gag or start retching.
During the procedure, your eyes will probably water, and it will probably be irritating. When the doctor pushes the liquid into your stomach, you might feel a cool sensation in your stomach.
What are the risk factors?
During the procedure, if you vomit, that can cause you to breathe what's in your stomach into your lungs.
There's also a risk of tearing the throat, especially if the substance ingested harmed the throat.
With children, the tube can sometimes be inserted too far. Medical staff can generally decide how long the tube should be based on the child's height, among other factors.
There's some risk that the tube will be inserted into your trachea, or windpipe, rather than your esophagus and then stomach.
What's the recovery time?
If the situation calls for a trip to the emergency room, you might be admitted to the hospital for observation overnight. You might also receive a psychiatric evaluation, depending on why you took the substance. If you or someone you know has thoughts of suicide, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255. If you are hearing-impaired, you can call (800) 799-4TTY (4889). The hotline is open 24 hours a day.
The length of recovery will depend on what you've ingested. If it's alcohol, you can probably sleep it off after seeking medical help. Different drugs have different biological half-lives, meaning the time it takes for the drug to degrade in your body will vary.
Often, the time it takes to recover won't depend as much on the drug itself but what the drug did to your body. For example, some caustic material might burn your throat, so even after you receive a stomach lavage, you will suffer side effects from those materials.
Are there any follow-ups?
If you are sent home after the stomach pumping, your doctor might advise that you call them in a few hours or the next day to update them on how you're feeling.
Unintentional poisoning deaths increased by 160 percent from 1999 to 2009. It is best to keep medications locked away and out of reach of children. It is also important to listen to your doctor when he or she prescribes a certain dose of medication. And you should to be honest with your doctor about the types of prescriptions you are taking.
Sources: Dr. Ryan Brown, emergency room physician at The Children's Hospital at OU Medical Center; The Oklahoma Poison Control Center; Textbook of Pediatric Emergency Procedures by Christopher King and Fred M. Henretig; MedLinePlus; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; The American Association of Poison Control Centers; Medscape