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What's It Like: To get your stomach pumped

Gastric lavage is somewhat controversial in the medical field, in terms of when it's appropriate and effective to use.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Published: July 29, 2012

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.

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by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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