Malnutrition in dialysis patients is of multifactorial etiology and is associated with greatly increased morbidity and mortality. A low serum albumin level is one of the most powerful predictors of death and may persist despite optimization of the dialysis prescription. We retrospectively reviewed our experience in improving nutrition in nondiabetic patients with unexplained hypoalbuminemia. Using radionuclide solid-phase gastric emptying scans, we identified 6 patients who had occult gastroparesis. These patients (one on hemodialysis and five on peritoneal dialysis) were then treated with prokinetic medications (erythromycin elixir or metoclopramide) selected on the basis of their effectiveness in improving the scanning results after being given intravenously. Gastric emptying half-times improved from a median of 122 minutes (range, 95 to >300 minutes; normal, < or = 90 minutes) to 12 +/- 2 minutes (mean +/- SEM). The serum albumin increased from 3.3 +/- 0.04 g/dL to 3.7 +/- 0.08 g/dL at 3 months, with every patient's value higher than 3.5 g/dL. This improvement was statistically significant (P = 0.008) over the 5-month period of observation, which encompassed the 2 months before and 3 months after treatment. There was a linear improvement (P = 0.008) that showed a quadratic trend (P = 0.078) for a plateau at the final sampling point. The serum blood urea nitrogen, creatinine, and hematocrit levels remained unchanged (P > 0.1). We conclude that gastric emptying scans are valuable in identifying occult gastroparesis in high-risk patients and can guide the selection of prokinetic therapy, which may significantly increase serum albumin levels.