Gastric Lavage

How to Cite This Chapter: Baw B, Oczkowski S, Klimaszyk D, Jankowski M. Gastric Lavage. McMaster Textbook of Internal Medicine. Kraków: Medycyna Praktyczna. Accessed May 31, 2024.
Last Updated: January 24, 2022
Last Reviewed: January 24, 2022
Chapter Information

Gastric lavage should not be considered one of the routine decontamination methods in toxicology and its use is declining due to various potential complications, scarce evidence, and uncertain clinical effects. While studies in healthy volunteers and animals show decreased absorption of toxins and certain markers, high-quality clinical studies are lacking.


Gastric lavage may be considered within 1 hour of oral intake of a significant amount of a life-threatening toxic substance. It should be restricted to life-threatening exposure in either fully awake and cooperative patients or patients with a protected airway. Examples include recent ingestion of significant amounts of tricyclic antidepressants, labetalol, organophosphates, or toxic alcohols. If available, a local poison control center can provide guidance as to the appropriateness of gastric lavage with or without activated charcoal.


Aspiration, perforation of the gastrointestinal tract, rhythm disturbances, water and electrolyte imbalance.


Poisoning with corrosives (risk of gastrointestinal perforation); poisoning with volatile substances, hydrocarbons, or detergents (high risk of aspiration); significant risk of gastrointestinal bleeding; unconscious patients (unless intubated); significant psychomotor agitation, patient refusal, lack of cooperation, or resistance.

Patient PreparationTop

The patient should be fully awake and cooperative to perform this procedure; otherwise, the patient’s airway must be secured with endotracheal intubation. Ideally, proactive endotracheal intubation should be done because of the high risk of aspiration and respiratory compromise, either from the procedure or toxic ingestion.


Large-bore nasogastric/orogastric tube coated with a lubricant gel (eg, lidocaine gel), funnel, bucket, 50 mL syringe.


1. Insert the nasogastric/orogastric tube into the stomach, then confirm placement (see Nasogastric/Orogastric Tube Insertion). A fully awake patient should be placed in the left lateral decubitus position. An intubated patient may lie supine.

2. Introduce 200 to 300 mL of water at body temperature into the tube and then lower the tube into the bucket below the level of the stomach before water disappears from the funnel. This will cause the water to return (siphon phenomenon). Repeat until clear (watery) outflow is seen.

3. A single dose of activated charcoal (1 g/kg) can be administered into the stomach after completing gastric lavage as indicated. Exceptions include substances that are not adsorbed by activated charcoal (alcohols, mercury, lead, or iron).

Consider administration of repeated doses of activated charcoal (starting from 1 g/kg and followed by 0.5-1 g/kg every 2-4 hours) in patients who ingested life-threatening doses of quinine, dapsone, phenobarbital, carbamazepine, or theophylline.

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