You’ve probably heard of someone having to get their “stomach pumped,” especially if you’ve been of drinking age for a few decades now. It has historically been used as a threat to discourage excessive and irresponsible drinking, particularly among teens. Even millennials, who attended high school during the late ‘90s and ‘00s, heard this threat.
So …. what is it?
This procedure, which is officially known as gastric suction, is a way to quickly remove stomach contents. For example, it can be used to remove harmful materials (like poisons or excess medicines) from the digestive tract, to collect stomach acid, or to clean out the stomach to prepare for an upper endoscopy.
The procedure starts by numbing the throat to reduce irritation. Then, a tube is inserted through the mouth, down the esophagus, and into the stomach. The tube then suctions out the stomach contents like a vacuum.
The goal of “stomach pumping” is to stop the harmful substances (like alcohol) before it travels further through the GI tract and causes more problems. Or, in the case of endoscopy preparation, gastric suction can help quickly clean out the stomach before a last-minute upper endoscopy.
How Common Is Stomach Pumping?
Despite its notoriety, “stomach pumping” for alcohol is pretty rare these days. If you or a friend goes overboard on vodka sodas, it’s much more likely that a healthcare provider will simply monitor your vital signs and hook you up to an IV to rehydrate you. Depending on the severity of your intoxication, oxygen masks or other interventions may be needed.
Plus, gastric suction—like any procedure—comes with some risks. You could potentially breathe in the contents being sucked from the stomach, or you could get a perforation or hole in the esophagus.
While the long-used threat of “getting your stomach pumped” may not be relevant anymore, the health risks of binge-drinking are still very real. Besides, do you really want your party to end in a trip to the ER—regardless of whether it’s for an IV or a gastric suction?