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What Is Gastric Lavage?

Gastric lavage is commonly used in drug overdose cases.
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  • Written By: Phil Shepley
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 26 September 2014
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Gastric lavage is the process by which a tube is used to remove or to test the contents of the stomach, and is often also referred to as stomach pumping or irrigation. The purpose of the procedure is most commonly to take unwanted poisons or drugs out of the stomach, the latter usually being done in the case of a drug overdose. A gastric lavage is also commonly done prior to a surgery where the contents of the stomach can complicate surgical procedures.

For a gastric lavage, a rubber tube or hose is inserted into the mouth or nose of a conscious or unconscious patient until it reaches the stomach where the unwanted contents are present. Care must be taken to insure that the tube has not been inserted into the lungs, and a pH test is usually done on the removed contents to be sure that this is not the case. Once the stomach is has been siphoned, it is often washed with water or a saline solution via the same tube to cleanse the stomach lining of any remaining irritants.

When used after poison intake, a gastric lavage must usually be administered within sixty minutes of when the poison was ingested. The procedure is often avoided, especially when the presence of the poison in the stomach is not life threatening. A common example of when gastric lavage is administered is when a patient suffers from alcohol poisoning and there is still alcohol remaining in the stomach.

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Complications that arise from gastric lavage are uncommon, but can cause stomach injury and more. One of the problems that can occur is when foreign particles enter the patient’s windpipe and cause a condition known as aspiration pneumonia. Very little preparation is necessary to perform a gastric lavage, especially in an emergency. When the surgery is required for a test, a doctor may have the patient avoid food or medications for a time period prior to the procedure.

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