How Do Gastrointestinal Diagnostics Work?

Reviewed on 6/29/2021


Gastrointestinal diagnostics are a class of medications that help diagnose disorders of the gall bladder or pancreas, speed up the digestion of barium (a contrast agent given in preparation of X-ray examination of the intestines), and treat severe hypoglycemia (very low blood sugar levels).

This drug class consists of synthetically prepared drugs identical to the naturally occurring bodily hormones such as secretin and glucagon.

  • Secretin is a gastrointestinal peptide hormone that regulates secretions in the stomach, pancreas, and liver. This hormone is produced by the duodenum. The main action of secretin is to stimulate the pancreas to secrete pancreatic juice for pH regulation in the small intestines. Secretin is also responsible for body fluid homeostasis and bile production.
  • Glucagon is a peptide hormone secreted from the alpha cells of the pancreas. It raises the blood sugar level by causing the body to release sugar stored in the liver in response to stimuli such as very low blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia) to maintain adequate plasma glucose concentrations.

These are administered as an intravenous infusion as part of medical tests or X-rays.

Gastrointestinal diagnostics work in the following ways:

  • They aid in radiologic examinations by temporarily inhibiting the movements of the gastrointestinal tract (stomach, intestines, and colon) which may help to make the X-ray clearer.
  • They raise the blood sugar levels through the activation of hepatic (liver cells) glucagon receptors, stimulating glycogenolysis (the breakdown of glycogen to generate glucose) and releasing glucose into the blood.
  • They mediate an inhibitory effect on acid secretion by stomach cells which causes alkalization of the duodenal content by stimulating the release of pancreatic juice, which has high amounts of water and bicarbonate ions.
  • This bicarbonate release initiates the cAMP-mediated signaling cascade (cyclic adenosine monophosphate is important in many biological processes) that results in neutralizing gastric acids which play an essential role in fat digestion by creating a more neutral (pH, 6 to 8) environment.


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Gastrointestinal diagnostics are used to diagnose and treat:

  • To aid in the diagnosis of:
  • To treat:
    • Hypoglycemia (very low blood sugar levels)
  • To stimulate gall bladder contractions:
    • Assessed by various methods of diagnostic imaging or obtained by duodenal aspiration, a sample of concentrated bile for analysis of cholesterol, bile salts, phospholipids, and crystals.
  • To aid in barium transit:
    • Accelerate the transit of a barium meal through the small bowel, thereby decreasing the time and extent of radiation associated with fluoroscopy and X-ray examination of the intestinal tract.


Common side effects may include:

Other rare side effects may include:

Information contained herein is not intended to cover all possible side effects, precautions, warnings, drug interactions, allergic reactions, or adverse effects. Check with your doctor or pharmacist to make sure these drugs do not cause any harm when you take them along with other medicines. Never stop taking your medication and never change your dose or frequency without consulting your doctor.


Names of gastrointestinal diagnostic include:


Pancreatitis is inflammation of an organ in the abdomen called the pancreas. See Answer

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