Gastric Acid Determination

Gastric Acid Determination



Gastric acid determination, also known as stomach acid determination, gastric analysis, or basal gastric secretion, is a procedure to evaluate gastric (stomach) function. The test specifically determines the presence of gastric acid, as well as the amount of gastric acid secreted. It is often done in conjunction with the gastric acid stimulation test, a procedure that measures gastric acid output after injection of a drug to stimulate gastric acid secretion.


The purpose of the gastric acid determination is to evaluate gastric function by measuring the amount of acid as suctioned directly from the stomach. The complete gastric acid determination includes the basal gastric secretion test, which measures acid secretion while the patient is in a fasting state (nothing to eat or drink), followed by the gastric acid stimulation test, which measures the secretion of gastric acid for one hour after injection of pentagastrin or a similar drug that stimulates gastric acid output. The Gastric acid stimulation test is done when the basal secretion test suggests abnormalities in gastric secretion. It is normally performed immediately afterward.
The basal gastric secretion test is indicated for patients with obscure gastric pain, loss of appetite, and weight loss. It is also utilized for suspected peptic (related to the stomach) ulcer, severe stomach inflammation (gastritis), and Zollinger-Ellison (Z-E) syndrome (a condition in which a pancreatic tumor, called a gastrinoma, stimulates the stomach to secrete excessive amounts of acid, resulting in peptic ulcers). Because external factors like the sight or odor of food, as well as psychological stress, can stimulate gastric secretion, accurate testing requires that the patient be relaxed and isolated from all sources of sensory stimulation. Abnormal basal secretion can suggest various gastric and duodenal disorders, so further evaluation requires the gastric acid stimulation test.
The gastric acid stimulation test is indicated when abnormalities are found during the basal secretion test. These abnormalities can be caused by a number of disorders, including duodenal ulcer, pernicious anemia, and gastric cancer. The test will detect abnormalities, but x rays and other studies are necessary for a definitive diagnosis.


Because both the basal gastric secretion test and the gastric acid stimulation test require insertion of a gastric tube (intubation) through the mouth or nasal passage, neither test is recommended for patients with esophageal problems, aortic aneurysm, severe gastric hemorrhage, or congestive heart failure. The gastric acid stimulation test is also not recommended in patients who are sensitive to pentagastrin (the drug used to stimulate gastric acid output).


This test, whether performed for basal gastric acid secretion, gastric acid stimulation, or both, requires the passage of a lubricated rubber tube, either by mouth or through the nasal passage, while the patient is in a sitting or reclining position on the left side. The tube is situated in the stomach, with proper positioning confirmed by fluoroscopy or x ray.

Basal gastric acid secretion

After a wait of approximately 10-15 minutes for the patient to adjust to the presence of the tube, and with the patient in a sitting position, specimens are obtained every 15 minutes for a period of 90 minutes. The first two specimens are discarded to eliminate gastric contents that might be affected by the stress of the intubation process. The patient is allowed no liquids during the test, and saliva must be ejected to avoid diluting the stomach contents.
The four specimens collected during the test constitute the basal acid output. If analysis suggests abnormally low gastric secretion, the gastric acid stimulation test is performed immediately afterward.

Gastric acid stimulation test

After the basal samples have been collected, the tube remains in place for the gastric acid stimulation test. Pentagastrin, or a similar drug that stimulates gastric acid output, is injected under the skin (subcutaneously). After 15 minutes, a specimen is collected every 15 minutes for one hour. These specimens are called the poststimulation specimens. As is the case with the basal gastric secretion test, the patient can have no liquids during this test, and must eject saliva to avoid diluting the stomach contents.


The patient should be fasting (nothing to eat or drink after the evening meal) on the day prior to the test, but may have water up to one hour before the test. Antacids, anticholinergics, cholinergics, alcohol, H2-receptor antagonists (Tagamet, Pepcid, Axid, Zantac), reserpine, adrenergic blockers, and adrenocorticosteroids should be withheld for one to three days before the test, as the physician requests. If pentagastrin is to be administered for the gastric acid secretion test, medical supervision should be maintained, as possible side effects may occur.


Complications such as nausea, vomiting, and abdominal distention or pain are possible following removal of the gastric tube. If the patient has a sore throat, soothing lozenges may be given. The patient may also resume the usual diet and any medications that were withheld for the test(s).


There is a slight risk that the gastric tube may be inserted improperly, entering the windpipe (trachea) and not the esophagus. If this happens, the patient may have a difficult time breathing or may experience a coughing spell until the tube is removed and reinserted properly. Also, because the tube can be difficult to swallow, if a patient has an overactive gag reflex, there may be a transient rise in blood pressure due to anxiety.

Normal results

Reference values for the basal gastric secretion test vary by laboratory, but are usually within the following ranges:
  • men: 1-5 mEq/h
  • women: 0.2-3.8 mEq/h
Reference values for the gastric acid stimulation test vary by laboratory, but are usually within the following ranges:
  • men: 18-28 mEq/h
  • women: 11-21 mEq/h

Abnormal results

Abnormal findings in the basal gastric secretion test are considered nonspecific and must be evaluated in conjunction with the results of a gastric acid stimulation test. Elevated secretion may suggest different types of ulcers; when markedly elevated, Zollinger-Ellison syndrome is suspected. Depressed secretion can indicate gastric cancer, while complete absence of secretion (achlorhydria) may suggest pernicious anemia.
Elevated gastric secretion levels in the gastric acid stimulation test may be indicative of duodenal ulcer; high levels of secretion again suggest Zollinger-Ellison syndrome.



Pagana, Kathleen Deska. Mosby's Manual of Diagnostic and Laboratory Tests. St. Louis: Mosby, Inc., 1998.

Key terms

Achlorhydria — An abnormal condition in which hydrochloric acid is absent from the secretions of the gastric glands in the stomach.
Pernicious anemia — One of the main types of anemia, caused by inadequate absorption of vitamin B12. Symptoms include tingling in the hands, legs, and feet, spastic movements, weight loss, confusion, depression, and decreased intellectual function.
Zollinger-Ellison syndrome — A rare condition characterized by severe and recurrent peptic ulcers in the stomach, duodenum, and upper small intestine, caused by a tumor, or tumors, usually found in the pancreas. The tumor secretes the hormone gastrin, which stimulates the stomach and duodenum to produce large quantities of acid, leading to ulceration. Most often cancerous, the tumor must be removed surgically; otherwise total surgical removal of the stomach is necessary.
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