5 Reasons to Get Your Stomach Pumped

doctors reviewing X-rays
You probably think stomach pumping is just used for poisonings or overdoses, but there are several reasons why doctors might perform the procedure.
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Stomach pumping, gastric irrigation, gastric suction, gastric lavage -- the procedure goes by several names, but it all does the same thing: gets whatever is in your stomach out.

Despite the name, when you get your stomach pumped, you're not really having anything "pumped" out of your stomach. Instead, the procedure is more like a washing or irrigating process that rinses out the contents of the stomach using water or another solution like saline [source: Jacoby].


Gastric lavage works by inserting a flexible tube through either the nose or the mouth, down the esophagus and into the stomach. A liquid is pumped into the stomach through the tube, and then is removed by suction or siphoning, taking out the contents of the stomach along with the liquid [source: Eisner]. The process is repeated until whatever needs to be removed comes out.

We most often hear about stomach pumping being used when someone is poisoned or overdoses on medication, but there are actually a bunch of reasons doctors would want to clean out your stomach. Here we'll explore five reasons doctors might want to get the contents of your insides on the outside.

5: Overdose or Poisoning

One of the worst-case scenarios, and also the most common, in which stomach pumping is used is to save you from an overdose or poisoning. After someone overdoses on drugs, alcohol or medication, or ingests a poison, pumping the stomach can help stop whatever remains from getting absorbed into the body. It can also reduce the impact of the drug or poison and possibly even save the person's life.

Whether the overdose is accidental or intentional, stomach pumping is one of the most common procedures for helping a patient recover from ingesting unwanted substances. The sooner you're taken to the hospital after an overdose or poisoning, the more the doctors will be able to remove from your stomach before it enters the bloodstream.


Most drug overdoses involve over-the-counter medications, however when the substance in the stomach is a corrosive -- such as lye or ammonia -- gastric lavage is not performed because the substance could also corrode the tube and equipment used to perform the pumping [sources: Jacoby; Lippincott's Nursing Procedures]. If that happens, fluid could leak -- possibly into the lungs -- causing further harm to the patient [source: Jacoby].

After pumping, a solution containing activated charcoal is often introduced into the stomach. It's thought to help prevent any remaining poisons from getting absorbed into the system [source: Mayo Clinic].

4: Clear Your System

Another common use for stomach pumping is to help clear the digestive tract before stomach surgery or an endoscopy. Before most surgeries and endoscopies, you'll be told not to eat or drink anything several hours before the procedure, which helps make sure everything is cleaned out and the doctors can see what they're doing. It also makes the anesthesia more effective. In some cases, however, it's necessary to take the extra step of washing the stomach, especially if the procedure is an emergency, the patient is unconscious or there is bleeding in the stomach that could obscure the camera's view [source: Kleinman].

Another reason to clean out the stomach is after surgery or trauma. In those situations, stomach pumping can be used to clear out any blood or fluids that may have collected in the stomach.


3: Cool You Down

Hyperthermia, or overheating, is a serious risk during the summer months. Every year people perish from hyperthermia, especially when deadly heat waves sweep the country. The regulation of your body's internal temperature is essential for the body to function properly. If it gets too hot and your body isn't able to cool itself down enough, you could experience symptoms of hyperthermia, including dizziness, heat cramps, swelling, weakness and, in extreme cases, death [source: National Institute on Aging].

Doctors will sometimes use the gastric lavage procedure to cool down patients experiencing hyperthermia. Using the typical equipment for stomach pumping, ice water is pumped into and out of the stomach (instead of the usual warm water) to help quickly cool the body's interior back down to a healthy temperature [source: Kates].


2: Sample Your Stomach's Contents

Sometimes doctors want to find out what exactly is in your stomach, and to do that must take a sample of its contents. Pumping is sometimes used as a way to remove some of whatever's in a person's stomach for testing. For example, your doctor might want a sample of your stomach acid to test for ulcer-causing bacteria. Also, if your doctor suspects a blockage in your small intestine, he might want to test to see if any of the intestine's contents are backing up into the stomach [source: Dugdale]. In these cases, gastric lavage might be used to obtain the sample.

Because lavaging involves pumping liquid into the stomach and then removing it, doctors try to use the first sample removed from the stomach, otherwise the liquid pumped into the stomach could dilute the sample too much to be effective [source: Dart].


1: Relieve Pressure

Stomach pumping is great for removing things from the stomach before they get absorbed, like poisons or drugs, and it can also be used to stop things from being digested. No, it's not a new form of bulimia; rather, it's a medical method of giving the rest of your digestive tract a break. If your intestines are blocked for some reason, such as a hernia, obstruction or impacted fecal matter, the last thing you want is any more of your stomach's contents filling up your intestines and increasing the pressure and pain. To help relieve pressure -- and to keep more from mounting -- gastric lavage is sometimes used to clear the stomach's contents before it moves through the rest of the digestive tract [source: University of Maryland Medical Center].

For more about stomach pumping and other bizarre medical procedures, take a look at the links on the next page.


Stomach Pumped FAQ

What happens when your stomach is pumped?
A flexible tube is inserted through either the nose or mouth, down the esophagus, and into the stomach. A liquid is pumped into the stomach through the tube, and then is suctioned or siphoned back out, removing the contents of the stomach along with the liquid. This process is repeated until everything that needs to come out has been removed. After the stomach has been pumped, charcoal is often administered to induce vomiting.
How do they pump your stomach for alcohol poisoning?
The procedure is like a washing or irrigating process that rinses out the contents of the stomach (including alcohol) using a solution. The sooner the process is done after ingestion, the less time the alcohol has to enter the bloodstream. The process is the same no matter the reason the pumping.
What does it feel like to have your stomach pumped?
A numbing agent is applied to the throat before the tube is put in, reducing any pain or sensation from that. The amount of pain felt varies between patients. A Their eyes will probably water as well — something that is also common when someone vomits.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

More Great Links

  • Dart, Richard C. "Medical Toxicology." Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2004.
  • Dugdale, David C., III, MD. "Stomach Acid Test." Medline Plus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. Nov. 11, 2010. (July 4, 2011). http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003883.htm
  • Eisner, Todd, MD. "Gastric Suction." Medline Plus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. Nov. 1, 2010. (July 4, 2011). http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003882.htm
  • "Gastric Lavage." Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 2011. (July 18, 2011) http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/226727/gastric-lavage
  • Jacoby, David B., and R. M. Youngson. "Encyclopedia of Family Health." Marshall Cavendish, 2004.
  • Jamieson, Elizabeth Marion, Janice M. McCall, Lesley A. Whyte. "Clinical Nursing Practices." Elsevier Health Sciences, 2002.
  • Kates, Laura W., MD. "Cooling Techniques for Hyperthermia." Medscape Reference. (July 7, 2011). http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/149546-overview#a01
  • Kleinman, Ronald E., Olivier-Jean Goulet, Giorgina Mieli-Vergani, Ian R. Sanderson, Philip Sherman, and Benjamin L. Shneider. "Walker's Pediatric Gastrointestinal Disease, Volume 2." PMPH-USA, 2008.
  • "Lippincott's Nursing Procedures." Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2008.
  • Mayo Clinic. "Charcoal, Activated (Oral Route)." (July 7, 2011). http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/drug-information/DR602267
  • National Institute on Aging. "Hyperthermia: Too Hot for Your Health." U.S. National Institutes of Health. (July 10, 2011). http://www.nia.nih.gov/healthinformation/publications/hyperthermia.htm
  • University of Maryland Medical Center. "Gastric Suction - Overview." (July 10, 2011). http://www.umm.edu/ency/article/003882.htm