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What Is Pentagastrin?

Jillian O Keeffe
Jillian O Keeffe

Pentagastrin is a drug that mimics the action of a natural hormone in the body. This hormone, gastrin, stimulates the stomach to produce acid. Doctors can take advantage of the similar effect pentagastrin has to diagnose stomach problems in patients.

The stomach is made up of different cells, some of which secrete substances to aid digestion and help normal functioning of the organ. One such substance is the hormone gastrin, which has several biological effects. When food enters the stomach, especially protein and calcium, the stomach releases gastrin into the bloodstream. Gastrin signals to other cells in the stomach and in the intestine to produce acid to help digest the food. The hormone also promotes gastric cell growth and may affect the rate of movement of food through the stomach.

Gastrin is a hormone that stimulates the stomach to produce acid.
Gastrin is a hormone that stimulates the stomach to produce acid.

Gastrin occurs naturally in the body as a group of similar molecules. All of these forms of gastrin have an identical section of five amino acids at one end, which is known as pentagastrin. It is only this section that is essential for function. This small section alone can therefore cause acid to be produced. Certain illnesses and conditions affect acid production, and by administering pentagastrin, doctors can gain information to help diagnose the problem.

Conditions that can be diagnosed through pentagastrin testing include stomach cancer, pernicious anemia, and gastritis. These illnesses can affect the ability of the stomach to produce acid. Gastric ulcer surgery can also lower acid production. Some conditions, such as Zollinger-Ellis cancer or an untreated stomach ulcer, can cause raised acid levels, which can also be measured after a pentagastrin test.

This test is available as an injection, although nasal inhalation of a powder is another method of administration. Fasting is necessary prior to the test, and acid production begins about 10 minutes after administration. Stomach acid samples are then collected and tested.

People with liver problems, biliary disease, or pancreatitis may not be suitable candidates for pentagastrin tests. Stomach ulcers may also be made worse by the test. In addition, it is unknown whether the substance is harmful to pregnant or breastfeeding women and their babies or if it is safe for children.

A rare side effect of pentagastrin is an allergic reaction. Adverse effects such as dizziness, lethargy, and numbness are also possible. More common, although less severe, side effects are gastrointestinal. Vomiting, pain in the stomach, and a feeling of needing to move the bowels are all possible and temporary side effects.

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Discussion Comments


My dad has a history of stomach ulcers that have given him problems for many years. He has to be very careful of the type of foods he eats.

Through the years he has learned what foods can set something off, so he tries to avoid them. He tries to stay away from most fried, greasy foods.

Once when he was given a pentagastrin test, he had some adverse reactions to it. They gave him an injection and he felt very dizzy and sick to his stomach.

Since then, he has inhaled the powder through his nose to check his acid levels. For some reason he doesn't have the bad reaction with the powder like he did with the injection.


I was having a lot of abdominal problems and the doctors were trying to figure out what was wrong. I was nauseated and had some ongoing, vague abdominal pain.

At first they thought it was my gall bladder, but they ruled that out. I was then given a pentagastrin stimulation test to see how my stomach was reacting to food and digestive juices.

The test was not painful, and I didn't have any side effects from it. I had my test scheduled for the first thing in the morning because I couldn't have anything to eat or drink after midnight.

The pentagastrin injections helped them determine that I had chronic gastritis which was the reason for my symptoms. They think this was the result of years of taking ibuprofen for headaches.

It seems like a vicious cycle. You take a medication for one thing, only to find out it causes other problems later on down the road.

I took another medication for a few weeks to help heal my stomach, and have not had any problems since then.

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    • Gastrin is a hormone that stimulates the stomach to produce acid.
      By: nerthuz
      Gastrin is a hormone that stimulates the stomach to produce acid.